Connecticut Post (Sunday)
America has some dangerous spending habits
If you’re on the lam from the mob, the FBI or assassins in the service of the Cafeteria Rusticana (a Benchley joke), a fine place to hide out would be on the bench of the Connecticut State Supreme Court.
A reasonably wellinformed Connecticut citizen can probably name, at best, one or two of the Mighty Seven. Many of you could probably name more “Real Housewives of Miami” than state Supreme Court justices. In fact, it may come as a surprise to you that there are only seven.
The reasons for this include the shrinking ranks of journalism, the relatively drama-free (and therefore less interesting) functioning of the court under Chief Justice Richard A. Robinson, the fact that justices must retire at 70, the reality that some justices seek greener pastures before they could ever lodge in our consciousness.
The current, muchdebated vacancy on the bench, for example, is caused by Maria Araujo Kahn decision to take a federal appeals court gig. About that vacancy. Gov. Ned Lamont nominated one Sandra Slack Glover to fill it. Glover was appellate chief in the Connecticut U.S. Attorney’s office. She had, back in the day, been a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
In the October 1998 term of the court, one of Glover’s fellow clerks was Amy Coney Barrett, assigned to Antonin Scalia. In 2017, Barrett was nominated by then-President Donald Trump to the federal appellate bench, and all surviving clerks from the good old days signed a letter exalting her.
The letter, unfortunately, for Glover, lays it on pretty thick with phrases such as “remarkable intellect and character” and “eminently qualified for the job” and “this view is unanimous.”
Somewhat unfathomably, Glover signed that letter the same year she attended the massive Women’s March, which was intended as a rebuke of Trump’s expected incursions on the rights of women.
I had mistakenly believed the letter surfaced in the days and weeks after Lamont announced Glover. The letter actually surfaced about 40 seconds after the announcement, having failed to escape the watchful eye of Connecticut Mirror reporter Mark Pazniokas.
It simmered for a while and then boiled up, especially on Twitter. Longtime progressive blogger Al Robinson scraped Barrett’s public statements and scholarly writings and then assembled a scorching Tweet-thread demonstrating how achingly obvious it should have been to Glover that Barrett was on a collision course with Roe v. Wade, part of a well-documented conservative movement to groom results-oriented judges for the big leagues.
Constituent emails began to ping the inboxes of Democratic legislators. And then came Glover’s Monday hearing before the legislature’s Judiciary Committee where Glover was quizzed for seven hours in a fairly unfriendly manner by legislators who might have been expected, under normal circumstances, to take her side.
As I write this Friday morning, Glover’s nomination is in serious trouble. It has come to resemble, ironically, the path of Harriet Miers, who was nominated in 2005 to fill O’Connor’s old seat on the bench. In each case, the significant pushback came from members of the chief executive’s own party. Republican senators resisted President George W. Bush. Democratic legislators are the big problem right now for Lamont.
By late afternoon Friday, the Miers/Glover resemblance was cemented. Glover asked Lamont to pull her nomination, just as Miers asked W.
The ordinarily mildmannered Lamont seemed prepared earlier in the day to treat this as a hill worth dying on. He reportedly contacted committee members, even trying to change the positions of people whose public utterances would have to be walked back if they voted for Glover.
This is not something lawmakers like to do. His Nedliness has certain virtues, but it could be argued that he has never understood the legislature.
As a general rule, you want to get commitments for the votes you need much earlier. It wouldn’t have been crazy for Lamont or a surrogate to sit down with Gary Winfield, the influential Senate Judiciary chair, before the nomination was even announced.
Winfield told me Friday the problem is not just the letter.
“The letter is the entrance,” he said. “The letter is what says, ‘Let’s pay attention to this person. Let’s figure out what this letter really means.’ We all have lapses of judgment. Was the letter just one moment or is it part of a larger lack of judgment?”
To that end, during a frequently cringey 27minute exchange, Winfield asked Glover for her definition of justice. Possibly due to bad acoustics, Glover appeared to hear this question as, “Could you provide us with a disjointed hodgepodge of stuff that happens in the justice system, occasionally contrasted with other stuff that maybe should have happened?” It was not pretty. Glover’s nomination became a little bit of a national story, mainly pegged to her uncredited citation of the British fourperson judicial panel Faces who sang “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.”
Glover has specifically said she would not have signed the letter, had she
Contributed photo known what Barrett would do. Which is theoretically a tiny bit embarrassing for Barrett.
I feel sorry for Glover. In a better world, the collegiality she exhibited in signing that letter would be a good thing. And what Barrett did in the years that followed Glover’s signing of the letter maybe shouldn’t be Glover’s fault.
The French have a term — l’esprit de l’escailer — for thinking of the perfect response long after one needed it.
But Glover might have been better served by sticking to her guns, by pointing out that liberal Supreme Court icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s best friend on the bench was hardline conservative Antonin Scalia and that they repeatedly traveled on vacations with their spouses, went to the opera together and convened their families on New Year’s Eve.
Glover could have argued that, yes, she knew Barrett didn’t share her policies but that we’re a better society when we see the attributes of our opponents and acknowledge that people with different value systems are committed to doing their versions of the right thing.
Glover might have been dead in the water even if she had explained things better. Our collective view of the courts has gone full-on shark tank.
But it would have been interesting to watch this story unfold with some good coaching.
Colin McEnroe’s column appears every Sunday, his newsletter comes out every Tuesday and you can hear his radio show every weekday on WNPR 90.5 or podcast any time at ctpublic.org/ colin. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up for his free newsletter at http:// bit.ly/colinmcenroe.
President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy met Tuesday on the debt ceiling crisis. It was none too soon. Cash in the Treasury General Account has fallen to an alarming low of $57 billion, according to the most recent Daily Treasury Statement. Yet, the debt ceiling crisis is but a symptom of a much more consequential debt crisis in the United States.
It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that Biden’s massive spending imperils the nation, risking an eventual fundamental default, not simply a temporary immediately curable default. The debt ceiling crisis has served a valuable function in forcing the nation to confront its unsustainable spending habit and its mountain of accumulated debt.Red Jahncke is president of the Townsend Group, a management consulting firm in Greenwich.
Very much sooner than expected, we will arrive at the X Date, the day on which the Treasury runs out of money to pay Uncle Sam’s bills. Treasury Secretary Yellen badly misjudged the X Date, only realizing her error a couple of weeks ago.
Ill-advised by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen or acting on his own accord, President Biden declined, for three months, to negotiate with House Speaker McCarthy … until a few days ago. For the good of the nation, McCarthy should not yield on House Republicans’ demands for spending cuts.
While deficits are not new under Biden, they are of distinctly unsurvivable magnitude. Moreover, Biden is particularly blameworthy, since it is plainly obvious that his spending is “the straw” that is breaking the camel’s back through record inflation and widening deficits. Previous profligacy may have been as reprehensible, but it did not break the nation.
Last Wednesday’s Monthly Treasury Statement showed a sevenmonth deficit of $925 billion, more than double the seven-month deficit of $393 billion in fiscal 2022. The full-year deficit in fiscal 2023 is certain to surpass $2.0 trillion.
Deficits require additional borrowing in equal amount. A $2.0 trillion deficit necessitates $2.0 trillion of new debt, or yet another $1.5 trillion to be raised by Sept. 30 on top of the half a trillion dollars that had already been borrowed this fiscal year by the time the national debt hit the current $31.4 trillion ceiling in January.
Stunning enough numbers, but what really makes the debt crisis manifest and urgent is skyrocketing interest on the debt. Net interest (gross interest less interest on the $6 trillion of Treasuries held in government trust accounts) increased a whopping $107 billion, or 40 percent, in the first seven months of fiscal 2023.
Inevitably, it will continue to increase, as outstanding Treasuries with lower interest rates mature and are replaced by new ones with the much higher interest rates produced by the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes over the last year. Another $107 billion increase over the next five months would increase full-year net interest expense to about $690 billion compared to $475 billion last year.
Interest of $690 billion on the $28 trillion of net national debt implies an average embedded interest rate on total outstanding Treasuries of about 2.5 percent ($690 billion divided by $2,800 billion) at the end of fiscal 2023. That is far below interest rates today (about 5.25 percent on short-term Treasury bills and more than 3.5 percent on longterm Treasury bonds).
Soon, interest expense will exceed every item in the budget except Social Security.
Treasury interest rates drive all interest rates, so a massive increase in interest cost is being experienced across the broad economy, making recession quite possible, if not probable.
While, in a recession, interest rates would come down, federal interest expense would still rise. Tax receipts would decline, forcing Uncle Sam to borrow much more to replace the lost tax revenue. During the Great Recession, tax receipts fell 25 percent from 2008 to 2009. So, even at lower interest rates, the federal government’s interest expense would remain high — and debt would surge to new heights.
The upshot is that, without cutting spending, the likely scenarios lead to continued unaffordable levels of interest expense and an ever higher mountains of debt.
Yet some people in Washington still resist. They claim that not raising the debt ceiling amounts somehow to reneging on financial commitments already made.
In truth, a debt ceiling increase is needed to fund past commitments, if, and only if, those past commitments were not funded when made. That is the problem in Washington: ever more unfunded spending. We need to fund commitments when made.
Now, perhaps frightened by fast disappearing federal cash, Biden abandoned his months-long demand for a “clean” debt ceiling raise. Maybe he understands that using new debt to fund past deficit spending only encourages even more of the same. Unquestionably, it is unfunded spending that has led to our current perilous position and that, sooner than later, will lead to fundamental default, not temporary immediately curable default. It is imperative to cut spending while raising the debt ceiling.