Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American
December 1, 2021
The U.S. economy is booming.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testified today before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, saying that although the rise in COVID cases due to the Delta variant had slowed recovery, the gross domestic product is still on track to grow about 5% in 2021. According to Christine Romans, CNN’s chief business correspondent, the last time we had that kind of growth was under the Reagan administration forty years ago.
Unemployment is also down. The economy added 531,000 jobs in October, dropping the unemployment rate to 4.6 percent, the lowest rate since November 1969. The recovery is not even, though, with jobs harder to find for Black and Brown Americans than for White Americans.
Meanwhile, the American Rescue Plan is restoring the nation’s basic social safety net. According to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, food insecurity dropped 24% for families as a result of Biden’s Child Tax Credit, creating “a profound economic and moral victory for the country.”
Powell also noted that inflation is up, from the 2% level for which administrations aim to about 5%. He predicted that inflation will ease as supply chains smooth out and as the administration takes measures at its disposal.
In illustration of what sort of measures those might be, Biden released 50 million barrels of the nation’s oil reserves to combat the rising gas prices that have grabbed headlines. Other nations, including India, the United Kingdom, and China, released some of theirs as well, and the price of WTI Crude has dropped back to what it was in early September. That fix may very well be temporary as economic growth puts pressure on oil supplies.
The success of the Democrats’ measures illustrates the effectiveness of the “liberal consensus” of the years between World War II and the Reagan Revolution, when members of both parties believed the government should promote economic growth by supporting those at the demand side of the economy. That meant giving those just starting out access to resources which they would, in turn, reinvest in the economy, helping all to rise.
The Reagan years reversed this popular understanding as lawmakers claimed instead that the best way to nurture the economy was to focus on the “supply side”—those wealthy people who, officials argued, would invest their money in the economy and create jobs. To free up capital for those people, Republicans focused on cutting taxes.
But while that system never worked as promised, Republicans have come to believe that tax cuts are the most important way to expand the economy. With the American Rescue Plan helping the U.S. to recover from the economic crunch of the pandemic faster than other nations, and with the extraordinary numbers we’re now seeing, Biden’s plan has once again illustrated the power of supporting ordinary Americans.
And such legislation is popular, so popular that, right on cue, Republicans who voted against the American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan infrastructure bill are advertising its benefits to their constituents as if they were responsible for it. Representative Rob Wittman (R-VA) has a new ad out boasting that “Congressman Rob Wittman is Bringing Broadband to the Northern Neck.” “It’s the future,” the ad reads, and Wittman “has helped bring broadband to thousands of homes and businesses. And he will not stop until every Virginian is given an equal opportunity to connect to the future.”
Wittman voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
The headline-grabbing news today, though, came from investigations into the events surrounding the January 6 insurrection.
Early this morning, Hugo Lowell of The Guardian reported that multiple sources told him that Trump had called the “war room” at the Willard Hotel several times on January 5 to talk about how they could stop Congress from counting the certified ballots that would make Joe Biden president. The team at the Willard was led by lawyers Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, and Boris Epshteyn and Trump loyalist Steve Bannon. Trump called the lawyers separately from the others, trying to keep from jeopardizing claims of attorney-client privilege.
Although those at the war room have maintained that they were acting only on the wishes of state legislators who worried about voter fraud, reports of phone calls from the president challenge that position. Lowell wrote: “Trump’s remarks reveal a direct line from the White House and the command center at the Willard. The conversations also show Trump’s thoughts appear to be in line with the motivations of the pro-Trump mob that carried out the Capitol attack and halted Biden’s certification, until it was later ratified by Congress.”
After the story came out, Trump’s spokesperson said, “This is totally false,” but offered no more information.
The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol is looking into the Willard meetings. Today, though, it interviewed Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, the man who recorded a phone call with Trump as the then-president tried to get him to overturn the results of the election. Raffensperger testified for five hours.
Also today, Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, dropped his refusal to answer the January 6th committee’s subpoena and has begun to cooperate, providing records and agreeing to be interviewed. Meadows had refused to participate in the process, citing Trump’s order that he stay silent. But after a grand jury found Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress, and as the House considers charging former Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Clark, who came up with a scheme to overturn the election and who has also refused to answer a subpoena, with criminal contempt of Congress, Meadows has apparently reconsidered his position.
Former federal prosecutor and legal analyst Renato Mariotti notes that this is a good move on Meadows’s part because it means that any future refusals will go to court, not criminal prosecution. Meadows is the highest-ranking official to testify before the committee and has made it clear he continues to expect to keep mum about what he considers sensitive material. Still, his participation will indicate to others that they should tell their stories before someone else’s testimony makes their information worthless as a bargaining chip.
The House committee today voted to hold Clark in contempt of Congress and passed the resolution on to the full House. The committee wrote: “The Select Committee believes that Mr. Clark had conversations with others in the Federal Government, including Members of Congress, regarding efforts to delegitimize, disrupt, or overturn the election results in the weeks leading up to January 6th,” and it expects him to comply with the subpoena. It rejects Clark’s contention that his conversations with Trump were a “sacred trust” and wrote that Trump had not, in fact, tried to assert executive privilege over Clark’s testimony. The committee noted that “the willful refusal to comply with a congressional subpoena is punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 and imprisonment for up to 1 year.”