Biden Announces New Vaccine Push

Biden Announces New Vaccine Push

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Plus - Dems battle over next spending bill
Monday, March 29, 2021

Biden Announces New Push for Vaccinations

Within three weeks, 90% of American adults will be eligible to receive a Covid-19 vaccine shot at a site within five miles of their home, President Joe Biden announced Monday.

Biden said that by April 19, the number of pharmacies in the federal vaccination program will more than double, to nearly 40,000. Additionally, the federal government will open a dozen new mass vaccination sites, with a special emphasis on reaching minority communities, and launch a new transportation program to provide access to vaccinations for seniors and the disabled.

Cautioning that the “war against Covid-19 is far from won,” Biden also called on states to maintain mask mandates and pause reopenings. “With vaccines, there’s hope, which is a very good thing, to state the obvious. But people are letting up on precautions, which is a very bad thing,” Biden said. “We’re giving up hard-fought, hard-won gains, and as much as we’re doing, America, it’s time to do even more.”

Earlier in the day, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said she was feeling a sense of “impending doom” about the latest increase in Covid cases nationwide. “We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope," Walensky said during a virtual White House briefing. “But right now, I’m scared.”

Democrats Prepare for Battle Over Biden’s Next Economic Package

The battle over the Biden administration’s next economic package is heating up, with Democratic liberals and centrists staking out divergent positions that could result in a long-running battle to shape the potentially historic bill.

Progressives are reportedly discussing plans to pressure the White House to increase the size and scope of its spending package. One member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said that the president should “be bold with his opening offer,” Axios reported, and some liberals are pushing for Biden to go beyond the $3 trillion mark that has been floated in recent weeks.

The Sunrise Movement, a progressive group focused on climate change, has argued that green energy will require $1 trillion per year for 10 years, and that $10 trillion total could become the new liberal benchmark. "Progressives feel like this package will define Biden's presidency, and that $3 trillion over 10 years feels low, and it may not meet the scope of what we need to do — in particular on climate,” a source told Axios.

Sanders’ big plans: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is another liberal figure pushing for major changes in the next spending package, including lowering the age for Medicare eligibility to 55. He also wants the government to have the power to negotiate the prices of drugs that are covered by Medicare, and for the program to provide coverage for dental work, hearing and vision care.

Sanders wants the expansion of Medicare to be included in the multi-trillion-dollar bill that will also address infrastructure, with the whole thing being sold as a way to address the long-term structural problems that the American people are facing. “We’re talking about physical infrastructure, affordable housing. We’re talking about transforming our energy system to deal with climate change. We’re talking about human infrastructure,” Sanders told Politico.

Resistance at the center: At the same time progressives are pushing for Biden to move further left, centrist Democrats are expressing concerns about the size of the package and some of the tax hikes being discussed as a way to help pay for the ambitious spending plans.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), who co-chairs the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, told Axios that he was worried about how tax increases would affect the economy. "We need to be careful not to do anything that's too big or too much in the middle of a pandemic and an economic crisis," Gottheimer said, adding that he wanted Republicans to be involved in the discussions over the next bill. “It's got to be responsible and both parties need to be at the table. This can't just be jammed through without input and consideration from the other side.”

One key sticking point for Democrats from the Northeast is the state and local tax (SALT) deduction that was capped in the GOP’s 2017 tax legislation, costing homeowners in high-tax states billions of dollars in lost deductions. Gottheimer said he wouldn’t consider any tax package that failed to reinstate the full SALT deduction, a move that is opposed by many progressives and many conservatives, too, since it would benefit mainly affluent suburbanites in blue states.

Rep. Tom Suozzi (NY), another Northeastern Democrat, has taken the same position, telling Axios: “I'm not voting for any changes in the tax code unless we reinstate SALT as part of the deal.”

The bottom line: Much of the attention in the battle over taxing and spending has been on the disagreements between Democrats and Republicans. But Biden’s next economic package may be shaped more by the conflict between liberals and moderates within his own party, and it could be a considerable challenge to strike a balance that will please all participants.

Schumer Eyes Third Spending Bill This Year

The general assumption in Washington has been that Democrats could potentially move two substantial economic packages this year using budget reconciliation, the legislative maneuver that allows the Senate to avoid the filibuster and pass legislation with a simple majority. But according to a report in Politico Playbook Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) thinks he may have found a way to pass a third budget bill this year, giving Democrats one more opportunity to “go big” on the kind of investments they want to make in infrastructure, green energy and the social safety net, without worrying about Republican opposition.

In addition to spending packages for fiscal year 2021 – passed earlier this as the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan – and fiscal year 2022, which begins in October, Schumer believes he may be able to unlock a third budget bill this year by taking advantage of some arcane language in the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.

What it says: Section 304 of the Budget Act states: “At any time after the concurrent resolution on the budget for a fiscal year has been agreed to pursuant to section 301, and before the end of such fiscal year, the two Houses may adopt a concurrent resolution on the budget which revises or reaffirms the concurrent resolution on the budget for such fiscal year most recently agreed to.”

What it means (maybe): Schumer’s staff has reportedly presented a case to the Senate parliamentarian that the language allows lawmakers to revise the existing budget bill for 2021 and send a new set of instructions relating to spending, revenue and the public debt – effectively creating at least one more spending package that can be passed via reconciliation this year.

The bottom line: There’s been no decision yet on the legality of the move, and Schumer hasn’t yet determined his strategy, but if it works, it could open the door for Democrats to pass another round of significant changes in spending and taxation this year.

Op-Ed of the Day: Trump's Tax Cuts and the Debt

New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz published a much-discussed piece over the weekend on the likelihood of Joe Biden achieving a “transformational” presidency. Levitz has his doubts, but his analysis touches on many of the factors that will make it possible for Biden to achieve quite a lot, if not everything he hopes for. This passage on the dynamics of debt and tax cuts is particularly interesting:

“Three decades ago, the Trump tax cuts would have made it more difficult for a subsequent Democratic government to increase spending, as that government would have felt an obligation to reduce the deficit it had inherited. Today, moderate Democrats feel compelled to offset a significant portion of new spending, but feel no obligation whatsoever to pay off inherited debts. As a result, Trump’s tax policies have expanded the bounds of fiscal possibility by providing Biden & Co. with a large bucket of politically painless pay-fors; between deficit spending and reimposing 2017-level tax rates on the superrich, Democrats can make a great deal of headway toward social democracy before ever impinging on the market incomes of their upper-middle-class constituents.”

Read Levitz’s full argument here.

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