Welcome to the last week of July — and likely the crucial last days for negotiators working on a bipartisan infrastructure deal to try to reach agreement on a plan calling for nearly $600 billion in additional spending. Right now, it isn’t looking good, with lawmakers publicly pointing fingers even as some involved in the talks continue to express optimism that they’ll get it done. Here’s what you need to know.
Infrastructure Talks at Risk of Collapsing as They Reach ‘Critical Moment’
Today was supposed to be the day. Negotiators scrambling to finalize a bipartisan infrastructure agreement had hoped to settle their remaining differences by Monday. Instead, the talks hit another roadblock as the informal deadline approached, with lawmakers publicly sniping over a host of lingering sticking points.
The Associated Press reports: “Disputes have surfaced over how much money should go to public transit and water projects. And other disagreements over spending and wage requirements for highways, broadband and other areas remain unresolved, as well as whether to take unspent COVID-19 relief money to help pay for the infrastructure.”
Democrats had reportedly sent Republicans a proposal late Sunday to address the outstanding issues, including an offer to accept the GOP position on highway spending if Republicans agreed to the Democratic stance on public transit. Republicans rejected the offer, reportedly disputing the characterization of the highway-for-transit offer and arguing that it sought to reopen issues that negotiators had already settled. For their part, Democrats said that Sen. Mitt Romney “reneged” on a deal to provide $55 billion in funding for water infrastructure and add $15 billion to address lead pipe contamination, a charge Romney’s office called “laughably false.”
So, like we said, not looking good. You can read more about the subsequent blame game at CNN, Politico or The Hill.
A ‘critical moment’: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Monday that talks had reached a “critical moment.” He added that he is “fully committed” to passing a bipartisan infrastructure package this summer, but warned that the prolonged talks could mean that the Senate has to work over this weekend or forego some of its August recess. "The bipartisan group of senators has had nearly five weeks of negotiations since they first announced an agreement with President Biden. It's time for everyone to get to yes and produce an outcome," Schumer said.
Asked about the outlook for an agreement, President Joe Biden told reporters that he’s still optimistic. And officials involved in the talks said on Sunday that they were close and still hoped to seal a deal.
Trump weighs in: Former President Donald Trump issued a statement Monday claiming that Senate Republicans “are being absolutely savaged by Democrats on the so-called ‘bipartisan’ infrastructure bill” and urging Republicans to drop the infrastructure talks until after the 2022 elections or until they have a stronger negotiating position.
"Don’t do the infrastructure deal,” Trump said. “Republicans, don’t let the Radical Left play you for weak fools and losers!"
What’s next: The group of 10 senators leading the negotiations is reportedly set to meet again Monday evening.
Fauci’s Multi-Billion-Dollar Plan to Prepare for the Next Pandemic
Dr. Anthony Fauci is pushing an “ambitious and expensive plan” to develop “prototype” vaccines against a number of different types of viruses so that the nation is better prepared if the next pandemic isn’t caused by a coronavirus, Gina Kolata of The New York Times reports.
Scientists had studied coronaviruses for years, meaning that they already had the necessary knowledge and tools to develop vaccines against Covid-19. “But what will happen if the next pandemic comes from a virus that causes Lassa fever, or from the Sudan strain of Ebola, or from a Nipah virus?” Kolata asks.
As director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Fauci’s answer is a program that would cost “a few billion dollars a year” and have researchers study the molecular structure of 20 different virus families and how the body can fight them.
The project is reportedly the brainchild of Dr. Barney Graham, deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Graham pitched the idea in February of 2017, and Fauci told the Times that he’s been pushing it more recently in talks with the White House and others.
“If we get the funding, which I believe we will, it likely will start in 2022,” Fauci said, adding that prototypes for half of the virus families might be expected in the first five years.
Much of the funding would come from Fauci’s agency, which has a budget of just over $6 billion this year, but the plan would require additional money from Congress. “It would require pretty large sums of money,” Fauci told the Times. “But after what we’ve been through, it’s not out of the question.”
VA Becomes First Federal Agency to Require Vaccines for Employees
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced Monday that employees who provide medical care will now be required to be vaccinated against Covid-19, the first time a federal agency has made such a decision. Starting Wednesday, frontline workers will have eight weeks to get their shots, and those who fail to meet the requirement will face penalties, including possible job loss.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough told The New York Times that his main goal is to protect the people in the agency’s care. “I am doing this because it’s the best way to keep our veterans safe, full stop,” he said. The VA runs the biggest health care system in the country and is one of the largest federal employers.
A growing movement: The VA’s announcement came on the same day that more than 50 medical organizations — including the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians and the American Nurses Association — called on health care organizations to impose vaccine mandates.
“Because of highly contagious variants, including the Delta variant, and significant numbers of unvaccinated people, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are once again rising throughout the United States,” the group said in a collective statement. “Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures. ... We call for all health care and long-term care employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against covid-19.”
Also on Monday, officials in New York City and the state of California announced new Covid-related rules for workers. As of Labor Day, all 350,000 city employees must be vaccinated or start getting testing on a weekly basis. The same rule goes into effect in August in California, and includes all health care workers as well.
“Too many people have chosen to live with this virus,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters Monday. “We’re at a point in this pandemic where individuals’ choice not to get vaccinated is now impacting the rest of us, and in a profound and devastating and deadly way.”
Resistance to vaccinations: The more aggressive push for vaccinations comes amid rising case counts across the country, especially in areas with low vaccination rates. A substantial percentage of the U.S. population is resisting getting vaccinated, and health officials are growing increasingly frustrated, especially as more people get sick.
“The reality ... is that the new infections, hospitalizations and deaths are almost exclusively among the unvaccinated,” Mollyann Brodie of the Kaiser Family Foundation told The Washington Post.
Many unvaccinated people say they have no plans to become vaccinated. According to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released last week, 35% of those who have not been vaccinated say they probably will not take the vaccine, while 45% say they definitely will not.
“We always knew some proportion of the population would be difficult to persuade no matter what the data showed,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University, told the AP, adding that “a lot of people are beyond persuasion.”
- Republicans Unleashed a Deadly Vaccine Skepticism. Can They Now Contain It? – E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post
- The World Needs a Heavy Hitter on the Pandemic. Bush Has Done It Before – James Harding, New York Times
- For Democrats, the Pain of Inflation Is No Reason to Stop Spending – Jonathan Allen, NBC News
- Defund the Tax Police? Republicans Better Not – Michael R. Strain, Bloomberg
- A Big Step Forward for Global Tax Justice – Josep Borrell and Paolo Gentiloni, Project Syndicate
- How to Close the Wealth Gap From the Bottom Up – Washington Post Editorial Board
- It’s Hard to Have Faith in a State That Can’t Even House Its People – Ned Resnikoff, New York Times
- The FDA Must Sprint, Not Stumble, on Approving the Covid-19 Vaccines – Washington Post Editorial Board
- Chris Christie Gets the Republican Vaccine-Hesitancy Story Almost Right – Philip Bump, Washington Post
- There Is Real Political Peril for Politicians Who Politicize the Coronavirus – Dan Diamond, Washington Post
- Why Delta Threatens to Undermine the Economic Recovery – Noah Smith, Bloomberg
- What History Tells Us About the Delta Variant — and the Variants That Will Follow – John M. Barry, Washington Post
- The Official Pandemic Death Toll Is Horrific. The Actual Toll Could Be Twice That – Washington Post Editorial Board
- Enough Already. It’s Time for Vaccine Entry Passes – Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post
- Plunging Life Expectancy Was a Natural Result of the Pandemic. But There Were Other Causes, Too – Washington Post Editorial Board