This is the first monthly newsletter since we welcomed Lila Sara Levin to the world at the end of March! As always, you won’t see fundraising in this newsletter, but hopefully you’ll get some useful insights into what the hell is happening in Washington right now. I got a lot of responses to my last newsletter, and with all the developments in the last week on the MAGA Default Crisis, now’s the time for an update on what we’re hearing from our partners on Capitol Hill and the White House, intel on messaging, and the strategy to get out of this mess. Most importantly of course, you’ve got to make it to the end to see the new baby photos.
Quick review of how we got here
If you’ve been ignoring the whole MAGA Default Crisis thing this year, don’t feel bad -- lots of folks have been. If you feel like you’ve got a good sense of how we got here, skip to the next section. If you need a refresher, I’ll make it fast-ish:
The stakes: Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve announced the country would default on its debt unless congress acted soon, with a deadline around June. The cost of failing to act would be a massive global economic catastrophe according to nonpartisan economic experts (e.g. see this recent report from Moody’s).
The Democratic position: Biden and the Democrats said, “we shouldn’t go into default.” This is the normal, sane position that Congress has always taken throughout all of American history.
The Republican position: First McCarthy and the GOP said, “we’ll drive the country into default unless you slash Social Security and Medicare." Then, thanks to strategic work by Indivisibles and others in key places and some epic trolling from President Biden during the State of the Union, they panicked and back-tracked. Then they shifted to, “we’ll drive the country into default unless you make a lot of unspecified-yet-huge budget cuts that we ourselves can’t agree on yet.” Regardless of your political ideology, this is incredibly irresponsible.
Three updates in the last two weeks: For a couple months, there was essentially no change. Republicans irresponsibly courted disaster without even explicitly naming their demands, and Democrats maintained a clear anti-default position. Then we got three major updates in the last two weeks:
- The GOP spelled out its demands for releasing the hostage. Republicans finally passed a bill specifying what cuts they want (coverage here). It includes massive cuts to education, teachers’ jobs, healthcare for seniors and disabled kids, as well as (of course!) big tax cuts for their donors. They are just incorrigible.
- We got a June 1st deadline. Earlier this week, the Treasury Department announced an updated deadline after which the U.S. will officially default on its debt: June 1st (see here). This deadline may get moved back a bit -- it’s always a moving target -- but this new estimate lit a fire under Congress to at least try to move quickly.
- Dems revealed a strategy to force McCarthy to give up the hostage. The day after we got the new deadline, Dems revealed a cool strategy known as a “discharge petition” to force McCarthy’s hand (see the scoop in the New York Times here). The details are boring, but it essentially allows Dems to force a vote on a clean bill to avoid default if we get all Democrats and just 5 House Republicans to sign their name to it (so far, zero have).
Where we stand: At this point, our side is (mostly) aligned that there should be a clean default prevention bill. Their side is (mostly) aligned around a lot of cuts or default if they don’t get their way. And we’re careening toward a June 1st-ish deadline. If we fail to win the fight, we’ll see a global economic meltdown and immediate and drastic cost increases for everyday Americans when the US defaults on its debt for the first time in history. The outcome of this MAGA-made crisis will hinge on which side's coalition holds stronger as we head into this end game over the next few weeks. We live in interesting times.
Messaging for this moment
I got a lot of responses to my last newsletter asking for advice on how best to talk about this issue to disinterested or skeptical audiences (often friends and family members!). I have good news -- we’ve partnered with some top-tier pollsters to identify the messages that work the best for the most number of people. In this section I want to start with what we’re up against with the GOP messaging strategy, and then I’ll cover how we should respond.
The GOP messaging strategy: McCarthy and the GOP are attempting a slick messaging move right now. The actual question right now is whether the US pays its debts. Period. End of story. But the GOP knows they’ll lose the debate if that’s the question, because a vanishingly small minority of Americans want the US to refuse to pay its debts. So instead, the GOP messaging strategy is to try to make this fight about future spending, with such a long list of demanded cuts that it’s hard to focus the public on the unpopularity of any single proposal.
This is a smart strategy because a debate about future spending is, well, debatable. I’m not going to agree with McCarthy on his proposed cuts (and in fact most Americans don’t -- see our messaging below), but reasonable people can disagree on the right level and type of spending that should be in the US budget. By introducing and passing a bill in the House that makes a ton of cuts, they shift to an argument about whether or not government spending should be cut. That is far more favorable ground for them than whether or not we should implode the economy by defaulting on our debt. It’s an intentional and effective messaging strategy.
Our messaging strategy: This debate is playing out in public, and to win that, we have to come with the best messaging to rebut the bogus GOP claims and defeat their strategy. Let me make two notes before I get to our specific messaging guidance:
- We focus on the target audience. I am not the target audience for our messaging and neither are you. You and I both follow politics closely and have a firm opinion about Kevin McCarthy and the GOP. I love that about us. But we are not persuadable, and that means we are not the target audience. Importantly, your most bitterly pro-MAGA relative or neighbor is also not the target audience. We’re not going to convince Cousin Bob on this -- we can still love him, but we’re not winning his support here. We have to use the most convincing message for the largest number of people in order to win over the public to our side.
- We use data, not hunches. Everybody’s got an opinion on messaging. I have several. But I am not a pollster and Indivisible is not a messaging shop. Not only that, but because I am not the target audience (see #1), my hunches very well may be off. So Indivisible’s role here is to work with the data nerds who are experts, and then we translate their polling and messaging data into actionable information for Indivisibles to use around the country.
Everything I am going to tell you in this section is not my opinion -- it’s taken directly from the private polling memos of our national partners who we are working hand-in-glove on this fight. Specifically, these recommendations come from an in-depth poll of a representative sample of Americans that we received a couple days ago. Hopefully that gives you confidence in these top takeaways:
- Always keep the focus on what’s at stake: defaulting on the debt. The technical mechanism for preventing a default is “raising the debt ceiling,” but if we just ask people whether or not they want to raise the debt ceiling, we lose the debate. People generally don’t know what that means, and it sounds vaguely bad -- like you’re agreeing to wasteful spending. But if we instead frame the issue as a choice between raising the debt ceiling or defaulting on the national debt, we win the debate handily. So always remember: This is about default on the debt. We don’t want to; the other side is threatening to.
- Slashing funding for teachers and schools, and cutting Medicaid for disabled kids and seniors. Of everything in the GOP bill, the two least popular things are cuts to education and healthcare. The GOP bill eliminates 108,000 teachers’ jobs, taking away educational support for 32 million kids in the country. It would also put healthcare of 21 million people in jeopardy by slashing Medicaid, including seniors in nursing homes and children with disabilities. These should be our leading arguments against this proposal -- we should repeat, repeat, repeat until they become as well known as the earlier attempt to cut Social Security and Medicare.
We try to keep it simple, and those are the biggest takeaways. If you really want additional talking points, there are some others that scored high for us. The bill hikes heating bill costs for seniors and families, sticking them with a 20% higher heating bill next winter. It also directly produces more hungry children and families, cutting food assistance for 400,000 people.
Maybe some of these land better with you than others. Maybe none of them strike you as the most persuasive. What I can tell you is this: As of this week, and with the most current and comprehensive data we have available to us, these are the most convincing messages for this fight.
How this is going to play out and what we can do
If all we need is 5 House Republicans to side with sanity, why isn’t this a done deal? Well, because there are not yet 5 House Republicans willing to side with sanity. Currently, right-wingers, big business, and conservative groups are backing McCarthy’s hostage taking, as the Washington Post reported this week.
Our allies are asking for help. We have been meeting all week with our allies in the Senate, House, and White House. They have a clear message: They need help from the grassroots. They need local pressure on the Republicans to fracture their coalition; they want local support for Dems who are under attack by a massive rightwing propaganda operation. We have shared with them the excellent targeted actions from Indivisible groups in just the last week:
- In Scottsdale, AZ -- Indivisible Arizona partnered with Honest AZ and Vets Forward to rally outside of GOP Representative David Schweikert's and push him to stop siding with Kevin McCarthy and Marjorie Taylor Greene and release the hostage.
- In New Hartford, NY -- Indivisible Mohawk Valley first shamed GOP Representative Brandon Williams into holding a town hall, and then protested outside and inside that town hall, accurately accusing the Congressman of siding with Kevin McCarthy over veterans in his own district.
Indivisible is out there in front because we’ve been preparing for this for months -- long before it was in the headlines! Our congressional and White House partners love this. They’re asking for more of it this month -- whatever the movement can produce. They think it’s they key to breaking through the logjam. And it’s why they are watching closely to see what comes of our week of action later this month, May 19-26th. If you want to be part of that push, find a way to get involved here. If that makes you nervous and you need more info, check out our new toolkit here -- all the background and additional messaging support you could ask for.
Keep the conversation going
One of my main questions when I write a newsletter is, “how useful was that, and how could I make it more useful?” My goal isn’t just to educate; it’s to drive real world action -- everything from encouraging folks to start conversations to leading a local event during the national week of action. And I’m trying to improve. So my one-click survey question this week is this:
Reflecting on this monthly newsletter, which of these changes or additions would you most appreciate for your own real-world use of this?
Just one click will give me some helpful information, but if you’ve got a minute to provide more input, each of the links above will automatically take you to a form to share more thoughts. It can take me the full month, but I do always read all the responses before I write the next newsletter! That’s how I decided to focus on messaging in this newsletter, so I very much appreciate any thoughts you have here!
Until next time
I’ll bet that we’re going to go through a few more twists and turns before this is all over. But there are more of us than there are of them. Their coalition is weak. The public does not support their positions and will not reward their brinksmanship and hostage-taking. We have the moral high ground and the strategic upper hand. And we are better organized. If we do the work to assert our power, we will win. So let’s go win.
PS: Indivisible fam, you made it through a long one this time! I’ll double up on the pics this time. Let me present you our IndivisiBaby #2 -- Lila Sara Levin! She and momma Leah are doing great. I don’t want to jinx it, but at 6 weeks old, Lila slept 6.5 consecutive hours last night (!). Fingers crossed. Writing this now, I’m suddenly and intensely feeling the passage of time. We started including pictures of Zeke into these newsletters when he was born because we were just so smitten with him and wanted to share our joy with the movement that has given so much joy to us. Two and half years later Zeke’s a comparatively huge little boy, doting on his tiny little sister Lila. Time flies, but we’re trying to savor these moments.