Record High for Daily Vaccine Doses
The U.S. set a record Friday for the number of vaccine shots in a single day, with 3.4 million doses delivered, according to the White House.
The big day for vaccinations could make it a bit easier for President Joe Biden to reach his new target of 200 million doses in his first 100 days. At the current 7-day average rate of 2.6 million shots per day, the U.S. should hit the target before April 30, the 100-day anniversary of Biden’s swearing in.
Democrats Push Back Against Postal Plan
A group of House Democrats introduced a bill Friday that would block some of the provisions in Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s controversial 10-year plan for the U.S. Postal Service.
The bill – called the Delivering Envelopes Judiciously On-time Year-round Act, or DEJOY Act – would maintain current guidelines and expectations for mail delivery and prohibit the service from increasing the expected delivery window.
According to current standards, first-class mail is expected to be delivered within three days. Among the many changes outlined in his proposal, Postmaster DeJoy wants to extend that delivery window to as many as five days, though with the majority of mail still delivered within the three-day timeframe.
“This particular change, going from 100 percent of first-class mail being delivered one to three days to only 70 percent, would be a nonstarter, in my opinion, with the American people,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) told The Washington Post. Krishnamoorthi introduced the DEJOY Act with six co-sponsors, all Democrats.
In response, a spokesperson for the USPS said the agency did not support maintaining “unachievable service standards.”
IRS Says Masks, Sanitizer Are Tax-Deductible
The IRS announced Friday that outlays for personal protective equipment used to prevent the spread of Covid-19 – including masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes – can be deducted as medical expenses.
The deduction covers materials purchased starting January 1, 2020, the IRS said. The costs should be treated like other medical expenses, and so cannot exceed 7.5% of income or be reimbursable by health insurance.
The IRS also said that protective equipment could be purchased with funds in flexible spending plans and medical savings accounts. Those costs would not be tax-deductible, though, since those accounts are typically funded with pre-tax dollars.
And just a reminder: Last month, the IRS delayed the deadline for 2020 federal income taxes to May 17, 2021.
Biden’s Big Spending Plans Pose a Challenge for Budget Watchdog
The Congressional Budget Office plays a key role in fiscal policy debates in Washington, evaluating various policies for how they will affect public finances. But as Bloomberg’s Katia Dmitrieva reports Friday, the agency is facing a conundrum with President Joe Biden’s calls for massive new spending on a variety of issues, from Covid relief to infrastructure investment.
Since its founding in 1975, the CBO frequently acts as a brake on new programs, consistently taking the position that excessive public debt is harmful to the economy and often backing up conservative calls for limits on spending. The problem is that some of its key forecasts have proven to be wildly off the mark, raising questions about the reliability of its projections and, more broadly, the validity of its hawkish stance on government spending and debt.
One of the most notable misses for the CBO has been interest rates, which the agency has repeatedly overestimated. High interest rates, driven upward by growing debt, are an important part of why the CBO says public debt is so harmful. Rates inevitably rise with increased debt, according to CBO economic models, because federal sending is “crowding out” private investment, increasing competition for precious capital. Those higher interest rates make debt all that more expensive, threatening to consume a larger and larger portion of the budget.
The problem is that interest rates have pretty much done the opposite of what CBO has predicted, falling even as public debt grows. As a result, the cost of servicing the national debt has been on a downward trend for decades, despite increasing substantially in size.
That’s one reason so many Democratic lawmakers and policy experts have become less concerned about the increasing reliance on deficit spending in Washington. “These stories about debt don’t make sense any more, and now people actually recognize that and have become skeptical,” J.W. Mason, an economist at the City University of New York, told Politico.
The agency has taken notice. “We know that interest rates have remained lower than previously expected, even as deficits have remained wide and the debt level has picked up -- and that’s important news,” Phillip Swagel, CBO’s director, told Bloomberg.
But that hasn’t prevented conservatives opposed to new social programs from demanding that the CBO step up and more forcefully sound an alarm on spending. Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah reintroduced a bill last week that would force CBO to make public all of its data and models, an effort inspired by what the conservative lawmaker sees as failures at the agency that have resulted in overly favorable projections for Democratic policies, including on issues like Obamacare enrollment.
That leaves the CBO at something of a crossroads, recognizing that the debt has been more manageable than it once claimed while maintaining its conviction that rising debt and interest costs represent a threat that could at some point damage the economy.
The CBO director said that amid all the back and forth over the threat or lack thereof of increased debt, critics sometimes lose sight of the agency’s role. “Should there be more spending or less spending? What’s the proper role for the government in society? Those are not issues for the CBO to decide,” Swagel said.
Solid Support for Biden’s Covid Relief Bill
A solid majority of Americans support the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill President Joe Biden signed into law earlier this month, Gallup reported Friday.
In a poll conducted between March 15 and March 21, 63% of respondents said they approve of the American Rescue Plan Act. Not surprisingly for a bill that passed with no Republican votes in Congress, there were significant differences in opinion according to political party, with 97% of Democratic respondents expressing approval, but only 18% of Republicans doing the same. Among the non-aligned, 58% of independents said they approved.
Gallup noted that while a majority clearly support the latest relief effort, previous legislation providing assistance in response to the coronavirus crisis had higher levels of approval. The Cares Act, which then-President Donald Trump signed into law at the beginning of the pandemic and provided $2.2 trillion in aid, was backed by 77% of poll respondents. Clear majorities of both parties supported the bill, including 70% of Democrats and 79% of Republicans.
Different bill, different circumstances: Both the American Rescue Plan Act and the Cares Act represented unprecedented responses to the pandemic, Gallup noted. But a year ago, the threat was new and the country was pulling together to do whatever it takes to combat the virus. Now, the situation has changed. “Today's legislation comes as the country is in the recovery phase, allowing for more partisan disagreement over the best solutions, and with Democrats in charge of the legislative and executive branches, making it harder to earn GOP buy-in,” the polling group concluded.
- Americans Are Hesitant to Be Vaccinated Against COVID-19. Washington Must Do More – Ronnie Shows, Roll Call
- For Every Extra Dollar Invested in the IRS, the Government Could Be Getting $6 Back – Catherine Rampell, Washington Post
- The Biden Revolution Rolls On – David Brooks, New York Times
- Biden Agenda Could Collide With Federal Judiciary Remade by Trump – Melissa Quinn, CBS News
- Trickle-Down Economics Is Down and Out Under Biden – Brad Bannon, The Hill
- Bring Back Supply-Side Economics – Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg
- The Decline of Republican Demonization – Paul Krugman, New York Times
- Why Congressional Earmarks Are Staging a Comeback – Erik Wasson, Bloomberg
- The Big Stakes for Treasury’s American Rescue Plan State Tax Cut Guidance – Richard C. Auxier, Tax Policy Center
- Today’s Geyser of Federal Spending Should Have People Thinking of the Connecticut Yankee – George F. Will, Washington Post
- The Nail-Biting Story of Obamacare – Jake Bittle, New Republic
- An Unexpected $10,200 Unemployment Tax Break: What to Know – Laura Saunders, Wall Street Journal
- The F-35 May Be Unsalvageable – Sean Kennedy, The Hill
- A Top G.O.P. Pollster on Trump 2024, QAnon and What Republicans Really Want – Ezra Klein, New York Times (podcast)