What the Devil won't tell you
Ciscomani's smart early moves undermined because GOP loves fire
Republicans are investing in the Arizona freshman's political profile. Will they demand he vote to tank the U.S. economy in return?
In January 2017, I wrote in this very space that then-U.S. Rep. Martha McSally had a Donald Trump problem that could hand her seat to Democrats in the 2018 midterm election.
Republicans thought I was crazy. But as fates would have it, she took herself out of the running and kept losing the U.S. Senate races that Republicans never used to lose. Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick took what had been her seat.
Policy, personality and politics aside, that was a pretty easy call.
Midterms produce lopsided partisan turnout. It's not army-versus-army voting. It's three=quarters of an army versus two-thirds of an army. The party out of power is more likely to show up at the polls, smarting from the preceding loss and pissy about what the party in power is doing. That's why the GOP should have cleaned up as a historical certainty in 2022.
Presidential election years are different. Those swings are much less severe. So, heading into 2024, freshman U.S. Rep. Juan Ciscomani is in pretty good shape.
House Republican leadership has put the Southern Arizona congressman in position to deliver, making him a member of the Appropriations Committee, which decides how money gets spent. It's the most important committee in Congress.
He's on subcommittees that include Housing, Transportation and Urban Development, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, as well as Financial Services and General Government.
The Housing and Transportation seat is a particularly good get and he knows it, because it deals with a lot of discretionary spending.
“These subcommittees will give us the opportunity to directly impact some of the issues most important to our region,” Ciscomani said in a statement after receiving the assignments last month. “Transportation, housing and homelessness, education, healthcare, and international trade – we will have a say on all of it. I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that federal spending is responsible, transparent, and delivers the results taxpayers deserve."
Sounds good so far.
What's more he's set up a Citizens Advisory Committee that includes names of middle-of-the-road types like Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Michael Guymon plus Ted Maxwell, who heads up the Southern Arizona Leadership Council.
To be sure, these aren't "lefty" organizations but they aren't the local Proud Boys chapter, either.
The committee has Democrats on it. Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson, Cochise County Supervisor Ann English and one-time Tucson Unified School District Board Member Alex Rodriguez are examples.
Bronson has bothered progressives lately but she's no Kyrsten Sinema.
In fact, Ciscomani is one-upping Sinema by acting at the outset like he gives a damn what his voters think.
On top of that, he'll be delivering the Spanish version of the Republican rebuttal to the State of the Union address.
Hell, Beltway types are already whispering his name when discussing potential Republican candidates for the Senate next year. That seems far-fetched for someone who's held elective office for all of 18 minutes, but it's a sign of how much stock the GOP is putting in Ciscomani.
These are all good signs for him. His mantra should be "Just be normal."
Oh, if it were only that easy.
Ciscomani's instincts may be to follow in the grounded middle-of-the-road footsteps of Jim Kolbe, but he's in the party of Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar and Georgia's Marjorie Taylor Greene.
The freshman congressman from Southern Arizona doesn't have to say it. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney did when he quoted the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" in reference to Greene and Gosar: "Morons, I've got morons on my team."
The Cisco Kid is going to spend the next two years with them tied around his ankles.
He's so far voting with them. Ciscomani has sided with his party to create a committee investigating the supposed "weaponization of law enforcement" against Republicans and Donald Trump. Why? A sturdy majority flat doesn't like the guy. Every day Ciscomani's party talks about Trump being a victim, it's a good day for Democrats.
It's also a missed opportunity. Why not trot out, day after day, the Afghanistan withdrawal and the situation at the border? A media-savvy Democrat could counterattack off that. There are maybe three of them. It would be the Dems' worst nightmare. Crime and inflation provide other options (remember, the campaign?).
Pick a couple and hammer them. By all means, piss columnists like me off and be tough on the border. That's smart politics.
What's not smart politics is a death dance with the debt ceiling.
Ciscomani won by just two points against an opponent who national Democrats failed to back, and can not afford to strap himself to Republicans covering themselves and the country in gasoline and trying like hell to spark up a Zippo. They are pledging to smash the economy into the debt ceiling to get spending cuts they didn't particularly care about when Trump was president and racking up debt like a failed casino operator.
The showdown over deficits and debt ceilings illustrates the Republicans "reality problem" and it's about to be Ciscomani's.
America's dumbest law
The debt ceiling is the dumbest thing in the U.S. Code and that's saying something.
Imagine if you had a perfect credit score. Then imagine you had to get permission from your spouse to pay your credit card bill. Now imagine if you and your spouse were going through a nasty divorce and your busted credit will be used to justify your estranged partner getting the kids.
Let's have more fun and pretend that every other interest rate in the world were pegged to yours. So if your credit is downgraded, the price rises for Acme Corp to expand a factory in Anytown, USA, and the Metropolis real estate market crashes. Markets tank, trillions in wealth vanishes, unemployment skyrockets and interest rates rise so the price of your debt gets bigger.
This is all to make you look bad in front of the judge.
The way out is for you to agree with your spouse that they get the kids and they'll let you make a few more payments. Of course, they'll do it again to get the house a year from now when they want the house.
Why the Christ would a rule prohibit you from paying your bills, when you've got the money in the bank already? How could someone who wishes you ill have that much power over you and the global economy?
Ciscomani signed onto a deal to crater your 401k, your home value, the economy and threaten your job as part of Kevin McCarthy's capitulation campaign to become House speaker. They either secure spending cuts they didn't have the guts to campaign on, or the whole country will suffer.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has announced she can move money around until May or June before the U.S. risks a default.
McCarthy won't let a debt ceiling increase even come to a vote unless the whackjob wing of the GOP gets its way in spending. They care about the deficit, they say. The same deficit they didn't care about when they had power.
Biden is refusing to negotiate and in no way should he turn the full faith and credit of the U.S. into a blank check for policy changes his opposition demand.
This is political terrorism. It's a threat to cause injury if political demands are not met. It's a high-jacking. It's hostage-taking for political purposes.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell once even referred to threatening the U.S. economy as a "hostage that's worth ransoming."
At some point the MAGAs will have to produce a list of spending cuts they want and voters hate everything about the government except for what it actually does.
Balance with what?
Let's start with just a 5 percent cut in the $5.9 trillion federal budget. Doesn't sound bad, right? Cut $300 billion out of a $1.2 trillion deficit.
Social Security and Medicare account for $2 trillion. Defense is another $800 billion. So, Ciscomani is going to vote to cut people's Social Security and Medicare payments as he represents a congressional district full of retirees. Then he's going to approve further cuts to a district that includes two major military bases.
Of course, he's not. And he's not going to fail to pay the $750 billion interest payment because that's the doomsday scenario that will crash the markets and his voters' 401k accounts.
So what they are talking about is getting all of their cuts out of the $900 billion in the non-defense discretionary budget. One proposal Nebraska's Blue District Republican Don Bakken has floated is capping increases in spending to less than inflation.
That's fine in an accounting sense but it's stupid policy.
Social Security provides a cost of living adjustment. So that's a cut in Social Security. Health care costs tend to rise faster than regular inflation. So raising Medicare less than inflation would cut Medicare services. Either way it's a non-starter in Green Valley.
So they're back to putting entitlements, defense and interest off limits. And suddenly the compromise looks ridiculously unworthy of a fiscal jihad. Limit non-discretionary growth to four percent instead of five percent? A one-percent cut?
Well, OK. Then Republicans are talking about destroying the economy over $9 billion in spending cuts to fix a $900 billion budget deficit? That makes no sense unless in the face of cold hard reality, unless they plan to still find $300 billion in cuts from discretionary spending not related to the military? There's no political will or imperative to cut infrastructure, education and disaster relief by a third.
I know this because Republicans neither asked for nor received a mandate to do so in 2022.
Then again, "deficit reduction" has always been Republican code for "stop taking money from Republicans and giving it to Democrats."
Unfortunately for the GOP, the biggest beneficiaries of federal spending are seniors, cops, bondholders and the military industrial complex. They're all Republican constituencies. It's the red states that get more back from the U.S. Treasury than they pay in taxes.
This is why deficit hawk-ery – as Rush Limbaugh put it in 2017 – "has been bogus for as long as it’s been around."
And the politics of debt ceiling don't play out well when one party pushes toward the fiscal cliffs. Barack Obama's fate turned on the debt ceiling standoff of 2011. Republicans couldn't recover from their brinksmanship.
Don't get me wrong. The deficit can become a big deal if for no other reason than the interest payment. That $750 billion is heading toward $1 trillion given where interest rates stand before Congress threatens to default on its debt.
Just getting that interest rate back to $400 billion would free up more than $6 trillion to $7 trillion over 10 years. The U.S. could afford a mental health program, climate investment, child care and the biggest tax cut in history. It would be a long-term pay off for some short-term pain.
Any real discussion of deficit reduction would put the whole budget on the block and the idea of taxing the rich at the same rate as the rest of us. No, your surgeon isn't "rich" if she's living off a paycheck.
Wake us when politicians start talking about that.
There's a legit, old-school way to cut spending (and by "old school" I mean 2021). Put together a list of cuts. Campaign on them. Then enact them after winning the House, Senate and White House.
That's too much work for the arsonists. Instead they are threatening to threaten millions of jobs to get cuts voters would not give them the power to honestly enact.
Party of chaos
Ciscomani has a ton of power to stop all manner of insanity. His vote is just as important as Gosar's or any of the five who held McCarthy's speakership hostage a month ago. He can, along with four other normal-ish Republicans, tell Greene that he's not going to let the party destroy itself.
I think, personally, the fire-loving wing of the GOP might want to to burn up the economy to blame Joe Biden for the flames.
If they can get him to the negotiating table, then they can make him equal party to the failed negotiations. Voters blame the guy in charge and that will be Biden. And they will rule the world.
That would be a good plan if the whole country hadn't already seen the GOP launch an insurrection the last time they lost power and turn the speaker's election into a national joke the moment they got some of it back.
Chaos has become their brand. Republicans once presented themselves as the strict, responsible dad in a suit who can be trusted to protect the family's prosperity and security. Now it's the cousin in the beer-stained wife-beater who gets way too into WWE and survivalist videos.
Ciscomani won largely because he stayed away from the likes of failed candidates like Kari Lake, Blake Masters and Mark Finchem. His trick is to stiff-arm those characters without letting go of their supporters.
He's going to have enough trouble with abortion. He doesn't need more help from the off-their-meds crowd.
"Purification through fire" is not a winning campaign slogan.
Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 30 years and is a former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.