Manchin May Sink Key Biden Nomination

Manchin May Sink Key Biden Nomination

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Plus, the next step in Democrats’ stimulus sprint
Friday, February 19, 2021

Manchin Says He'll Oppose Biden's Budget Nominee

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said Friday that he will not support President Biden’s pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, raising the risk that the nominee, Neera Tanden, will fail to win the required 50 votes in the Senate. Without Manchin’s support in an evenly divided Senate, Tanden would need at least one Republican to approve her nomination.

Biden told CNN he was standing by his pick and will not withdraw the nomination. “I think we're going to find the votes to get her confirmed,” he said.

Manchin said his opposition to Tanden’s nomination was based on her record of acerbic criticisms of his colleagues, frequently delivered via Twitter.

“I have carefully reviewed Neera Tanden’s public statements and tweets that were personally directed towards my colleagues on both sides of the aisle from Senator Sanders to Senator McConnell and others,” Manchin said in a statement. “I believe her overtly partisan statements will have a toxic and detrimental impact on the important working relationship between members of Congress and the next director of the Office of Management and Budget. For this reason, I cannot support her nomination. As I have said before, we must take meaningful steps to end the political division and dysfunction that pervades our politics.”

Critics were quick to question Manchin’s decision, pointing to his support for Trump nominees including former attorneys general Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr and outspoken Trump loyalist Ric Grenell as ambassador to Germany.

Why it matters: Manchin, the most conservative Senate Democrat, is flexing his new power as a crucial vote that Biden will need to advance his agenda through the 50-50 Senate. Tanden could become the first Biden nominee to be rejected by the Senate, and her failure could hinder Biden’s agenda given that the OMB job has wide influence.

“If Tanden’s nomination fails, that could further delay the development of Biden’s fiscal 2022 federal budget proposal, which is already behind schedule and which is the first step in the funding process for the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1,” wrote Bloomberg’s Erik Wasson.

Next Step in Democrats’ Stimulus Sprint Comes Monday

The next phase of Democrats’ push to pass a $1.9 trillion Covid relief package is set to start on Monday, when the House Budget Committee is scheduled to mark up the legislation.
The text of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 was released on Friday. The 591-page bill binds together submissions from nine House committees into one massive reconciliation package.

“Without this relief package, conditions will spiral further out of control and families will suffer needlessly,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) said in a statement Friday. “Multiple variant strains of the novel coronavirus are now infecting Americans across the United States, and our vaccine rollout and efforts to contain the virus are in desperate need of resources. We are in a race against time, and aggressive, bold action is needed before our nation is permanently scarred by the human and economic costs of inaction. We have the plan and the fiscal space, we have the American people behind us, and now we have the bill to get it done.”

What’s next:
The package is likely to undergo some changes after it passes from the Budget Committee to the Rules Committee, its final stop before a floor vote.

“Rules is where the substantive changes will occur, including the likely necessary step of bringing the combined package into compliance with its overall $1.89 trillion limit under the fiscal 2021 budget resolution,” Roll Call’s Paul M. Krawzak explained Thursday. “The nine committees have so far approved pieces the Congressional Budget office has tallied up to $1.95 trillion.”

Krawzak notes that the total price tag could be brought back in line with budget limits by eliminating some business tax breaks, which the House sought to do in two aid bills last year, or by scaling back the spending in the package, which could involve some tricky tradeoffs. For example…

The House plan includes five months of enhanced unemployment benefits, not six:
The House package calls for extending enhanced unemployment benefits of $400 a week until August 29, a month earlier than President Biden had proposed.

That change, which reduces the overall cost of the legislation, has drawn some pushback, with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) vowing las week to “fight like hell” to extend the benefit through September. The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said this week that the Democratic plan would help millions and bolster the economy but noted that the current unemployment benefits cutoff “is problematic” since the labor market isn’t likely to be fully recovered the fall, but Congress is scheduled to be on recess in August. “The August timing makes a benefit lapse, which would hurt families and disrupt states’ ability to administer jobless programs, likelier,” CBPP said in its report.

The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said this week that the Democratic package was “losing focus” on the pandemic and diverting funds to less urgent priorities unrelated to the Covid crisis. “The goal of COVID relief is to end the pandemic, protect incomes, and support the economic recovery. The House bill not only spends far more than is needed to achieve these goals, but also puts too many of these plentiful dollars in the wrong places,” CRFB President Maya MacGuineas said in a statement this week. “More than 15 percent of the package – about $300 billion – is spent on long-standing policy priorities that are not directly related to the current crisis.”

In particular, the group called out a bailout of union pensions included in the legislation, saying that rescue was included at the expense of additional enhanced unemployment benefits. "That multiemployer pension bailout in the bill cost about $56 billion, which would be enough to extend unemployment benefits to the end of September, and possibly a bit further," Marc Goldwein, head of policy at the CRFB, told Insider.

6 Million Covid Vaccine Doses Delayed by Winter Storms, White House Says

Hazardous winter storms across much of the country have delayed delivery of 6 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, the White House said Friday. Andy Slavitt, White House senior advisor for Covid response, told reporters that the doses represent three days’ worth of shipments. “The vaccines are sitting safe and sound in our factories and hubs,” he said, adding that the administration expects it will catch up as the weather improves over the next week. Slavitt noted that many states have been able to compensate for the delays by using existing inventory. The administration is asking vaccination sites to extend their hours over the coming week to help make up for the delays.

Biden to Commit $4 Billion to Global Covid Vaccine Fund

President Biden announced Friday that the U.S. will soon release $2 billion in initial funding to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a private-public partnership that combats disease in low-income countries.

Appropriated by Congress in the 2021 fiscal year spending package, the funds will be used to provide access to Covid-19 vaccines through the organization’s Covax Facility.

Although the Trump administration refused to participate in the international effort, lawmakers have committed a total of $4 billion to the program, which aims to provide equitable access to Covid vaccines throughout the world. The remaining $2 billion will be released by the Biden administration over the next two years as other donors fulfill their pledges to the organization.

Gavi was founded in 2000 as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Read more about the vaccine effort at the Gavi website.

The True Number of Unemployed in the US

There are officially 10.1 million unemployed people in the U.S. right now, according to the Labor Department’s latest monthly jobs report, but some economists think the true number is considerably higher than that.

As The Washington Post’s Heather Long highlights Friday, about 18.3 million people are currently receiving some kind of unemployment assistance, according to the weekly jobs report, with that number hovering near 20 million for months.

What explains the enormous gap between the two data points? Understaffed and poorly equipped state unemployment offices are a big part of the story, Long says. Most states have been overwhelmed by the surge in jobless filings since the pandemic began, and some have processed unemployment claims in irregular batches, severely distorting the weekly reports with data that stretches back weeks or even months. As Long puts it, one person’s claims for 20 weeks of unemployment can look like 20 people in one week when claims are processed all at once.

Fraud is another factor, with the temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program coming under special scrutiny. Congress created the PUA last year to help workers who don’t usually qualify for unemployment aid, including the self-employed and gig workers. But the program has been marred by fraud, and the resulting investigations have sent the weekly numbers bouncing all over the map. Ohio, for example, reported 10,156 new PUA claims two weeks ago and then 232,016 last week, with the variation probably driven by reporting issues rather than enormous swings in real-world joblessness.

A third factor, Long says, is the fact that some people getting unemployment aid have jobs, though they’re part-time.

Alternative estimates: Some economists have created their own estimates to get closer to the true number of unemployed. Fed Chair Jay Powell said last week that he thinks the unemployment rate is close to 10%, which would put the number of jobless at about 16 million. Former Obama administration economist Jason Furman estimates that there are about 13.3 million unemployed, while former CBO chief Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who led President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, thinks the 10 million figure is about right, given the decline in the employment-to-population ratio in the wake of the pandemic.

Heidi Shierholz, a former Labor Department economist now with the liberal Economic Policy Institute, offers a much higher estimate of nearly 19 million unemployed, derived from the number of officially unemployed (10.1 million), those who dropped out of the labor force (5.3 million), and those who are misclassified or non-responsive to surveys (3.5 million). Add the people who have seen cuts to their income (6.8 million), and the total of those negatively affected economically by pandemic comes to 25.5 million.

The bottom line: There’s a good chance that the official unemployment numbers are missing a considerable number of people, with the shortfall potentially running into the millions. But the speed and severity of the Covid-19 pandemic have made that number harder to calculate, and without a comprehensive, national, real-time reporting system, policymakers will have to muddle through with a range of estimates and a higher than usual degree of uncertainty.

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