Biden Touts 100 Million Vaccine Shots in 58 Days

Biden Touts 100 Million Vaccine Shots in 58 Days

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Plus, Biden’s HHS secretary squeaks through the Senate
Thursday, March 18, 2021

Biden Touts 100 Million Vaccine Shots in 58 Days

President Joe Biden said today that the country will hit his target of 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine in 100 days on Friday — 42 days ahead of schedule.

“When I announced in early December a goal that I set of administering 100 million shots for the virus in the first 100 days of our office, it was considered ambitious, some even suggested was somewhat audacious,” Biden said at the White House Thursday afternoon. “I’m proud to announce that tomorrow, 58 days into our administration, we will have met my goal of administering 100 million shots to our fellow Americans.”

Biden made the pledge to provide the 100 million vaccines in 100 days during the presidential transition, shortly before the treatments were approved for emergency use.

Average daily vaccinations have risen to about 2.5 million per day, up from nearly 1 million a day when Biden took office — a level that led to criticism that Biden had set the bar too low, with experts arguing by the time Biden was inaugurated that the rate of vaccinations would need to climb much higher. Soon after taking office, Biden increased the target to 150 million doses in 100 days. (See the CDC chart below showing the daily vaccination trend.)

In total, nearly 116 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered since they first became available in December, according to CNN. The government has orders in for about 800 million doses of the three vaccines approved for emergency use. About 29% of adults have received at least one dose so far, with coverage rising to about 65% for those 65 and older.

Use of the Defense Production Act played a key role in speeding up vaccine production, Biden said, resulting in a system that will generate enough vaccine doses for every adult American by the end of May.

Biden’s HHS Secretary Squeaks Through the Senate

The Senate on Thursday voted 50-49 to confirm Xavier Becerra as head of the Department of Health and Human Services. Becerra, who served in the House from 1993 to 2017 and then went on to become California’s attorney general, will be the first Latino secretary of HHS. The department — the largest in terms of spending — will play a critical role in the Biden administration’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic and its efforts to reverse some Trump-era policies, expand access to health care and lower costs.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican to back Becerra’s confirmation (and Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat, did not vote).

Other Republicans criticized Becerra as a partisan with no public health experience. They also opposed his record of support for abortion rights.

Democrats praised Becerra’s experience and blasted the GOP attacks. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Republicans were challenging Becerra’s qualifications and citing his lack of medical experience even though they had supported President Trump’s nomination of Alex Azar, a pharmaceutical executive who also was an attorney and not a medical professional.

Becerra, 63, had long advocated for a single-payer health system, but as California’s attorney general he was also a key defender of the Affordable Care Act, leading legal efforts to preserve the Obama health care law. After being nominated by Biden, who has rejected a single-payer system, Becerra said he supports the president’s view that insurance coverage should be expanded by building on Obamacare and creating a Medicare-like public insurance option.

Becerra is expected to be sworn in as HHS secretary on Friday.

Quote of the Day

“It may be an overstated political cliché that if you’re explaining, you’re losing. But you’re almost certainly losing if you’re explaining, ahead of time, why the economic boom you’re expecting on your opponent’s watch shouldn’t be attributed to your opponent.”

– Politico Magazine’s Michael Grunwald, in a new piece detailing the challenges Republicans may face in running against an economic recovery and the differences between this year and 2009.

Number of the Day: 47%

Nearly half of all workers in California have claimed unemployment benefits since the start of the Covid epidemic, according to new research highlighted by The New York Times Thursday. The California Policy Lab found that nearly 47% of the pre-pandemic workforce in the state had filed for assistance through state and federal jobless programs at some point in the last year, with some groups being far more likely to need help than others. “Nearly 90 percent of Black workers have claimed benefits, compared with about 40 percent of whites,” the Times’ Ben Casselman wrote. “Younger and less-educated workers have been hit especially hard.”

The data suggest that the jobs crisis is far from over in California, which leads the nation in the number of unemployed. While millions of people have returned to work, nearly 4 million have received more than 26 weeks of benefits, the usual definition of long-term unemployed.

“We have solidly shifted into a world where a large-scale problem of long-term unemployment is now a reality,” one of the paper’s authors, economist Till von Wachter of UCLA, told Casselman.

'There Will Have to Be a Fiscal Correction': S&P’s US Credit Downgrade, 10 Years Later

John Chambers, former chairman of the sovereign rating committee at Standard & Poor’s, is one of the analysts who stripped the United States of its AAA credit rating in 2011, reducing it one notch to AA+ amid a tense battle in Washington over the debt ceiling. Bloomberg’s Brian Chappatta spoke with Chambers this week about that event and his view of the current fiscal situation. Some highlights (full interview here):

Why the US was downgraded in 2011: “You had a clear — although perhaps remote — possibility that the U.S. government would default on its debt, triggered by the debt ceiling. ... The fiscal position was a contributing factor, but the main factor was the political setting and the congressional brinksmanship.”

The value of the social contract: “The American Rescue Plan Act will weaken the country’s position [with respect to creditworthiness], just the same way as the large corporate tax cuts of 2017 did. It will also probably do nothing to improve its trend growth rate because it’s not addressing public investment. But it may, however, strengthen the social contract. My view is this act is a political measure, and in the end it’s going to have to be evaluated in political terms. The social contract has weakened a great deal during my lifetime, and if the act comes to be seen as strengthening the social contract, it might be worth the cost.”

Fiscal situation not improving: “Neither the Republican nor the Democratic parties have shown any ability to carry out countercyclical fiscal policy in good times. It’s one thing to have countercyclical fiscal policy in bad times, but you have to have some contraction when times are good. And we haven’t seen that. We didn’t see that in the four years running up to the election, and we’re not seeing it now.”

What could come next: “Eventually, there will have to be a fiscal correction. ... Now, what’s likely to happen is there will be measures of financial repression and policy makers will slowly try to inflate the debt away. That would be one endgame, and that worked fairly well in the 50s and 60s, so maybe it’ll work again. ... I think eventually taxes will have to rise, they’ll have to rise not only to adjust for what we’ve been doing the last few years but they’ll have to rise for increased health expenditures. Those will have to be fairly broad-based because you simply can’t get sufficient funds for what we’re talking about out of the superrich. And that can be done. But it takes a national consensus, it takes bipartisanship and it takes people taking a long-term view.”

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