Good Friday evening. This will likely be a somber and difficult weekend as we mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It’s hard to believe it has been two decades, but the images and memories of that day are as searing as ever.
Here’s what else is going on.
Biden Defiant as Republicans Blast New Vaccine Rules
Some Republican leaders are making it crystal clear that they do not support the vaccine requirements affecting thousands of businesses and millions of workers that President Joe Biden announced on Thursday.
A Fox News headline sums up much of the GOP response: “Republicans explode with fury over Biden vaccine mandate: ‘Absolutely unconstitutional.’”
Echoing numerous Republican officeholders, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey vowed to resist the president’s vaccination plan, part of a six-point strategy to bring the latest Covid surge under control. “This is exactly the kind of big government overreach we have tried so hard to prevent in Arizona," Ducey tweeted. “The vaccine is and should be a choice. We must and will push back.”
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster was more combative: “Rest assured, we will fight them to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian,” he wrote in a tweet.
Biden pushes back: The president was asked about Republican plans to challenge his vaccination effort Friday. “Have at it,” he replied defiantly.
“I am so disappointed that particularly some Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier with the health of their communities,” Biden added. “We’re playing for real here, and this isn’t a game, and I don’t know of any scientist out there in this field that doesn’t think it makes considerable sense to do the six things I’ve suggested.”
Nevertheless, Republicans are expected to mount serious resistance to the Biden plan, including taking legal action. “South Dakota will stand up to defend freedom,” Republican Gov. Kristi Noem tweeted. “@JoeBiden see you in court.”
Democrats May Use Short-Term Funding Bill to Suspend the Debt Ceiling
Funding for a good chunk of the federal government runs out when the fiscal year ends on September 30, and the White House is reportedly pushing Congress to pass a short-term continuing resolution to keep the doors open this fall while lawmakers negotiate a full-year plan.
More than just short-term funding: Democrats are reportedly considering using the next continuing resolution to do more than just keep the government open. According to Politico, the White House wants to include a suspension of the federal debt ceiling in the resolution, along with relief funds for hurricane victims and Afghan refugees, effectively daring Republicans — who have declared that they will not vote to raise or suspend the debt limit, despite warnings from the Treasury on the dire need to do so soon — to vote against it. The resolution would need 60 votes to pass the Senate, which means at least 10 Republicans would have to vote yes.
“The posture from the president on down is setting up a game of chicken with incredibly high stakes — if a vote to suspend or increase the debt limit fails, the U.S. economy will likely crater,” Politico’s Laura Barrón-López and Christopher Cadelago write.
The use of continuing resolutions has become more or less standard operating procedure in Washington. As Axios’s Stef W. Kight reports, the legislative tool has been used in 42 of the last 45 fiscal years. In some years, there are multiple continuing resolutions, each lasting just a few days or weeks. Over the last four decades, the short-term approach was used most frequently in 2001, when 21 continuing resolutions were passed.
Whatever approach Democrats take, expect to see action soon. The government will need to be funded starting October 1, and the U.S. could face the threat of default due to spending limits imposed by the debt ceiling just a few weeks later.
House Ways and Means Committee Approves Medicare Expansion
The House Ways and Means Committee voted on Friday to advance a measure expanding Medicare coverage to include vision, hearing and dental care. Under the plan, vision benefits would begin in 2022 and hearing would be added in 2023 while dental coverage would start in 2028.
The 24-19 vote to send the measure to the House Budget Committee fell almost entirely along party lines, with Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) joining Republicans in voting against it.
Murphy, a leader of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, said Thursday that she would vote no on the elements being considered by the Ways and Means Committee because she felt the process was “too rushed, driven by politics rather than policy.” She complained that panel members didn’t have clarity on what would be in the broader package or official Congressional Budget Office scores for the components they were considering. “I don’t know how much we’re spending, how much we’re raising, how we’re spending some of the money, and how we’re raising any of the money,” she said.
House committees are working to approve their portions of the Democratic budget reconciliation bill by September 15. The House Budget Committee would then combine those elements into a single package that Democratic leaders hope can be brought to a full floor vote within weeks.
The Ways and Means Committee is expected to provide about half of the spending and the vast majority of the revenue for the total package, Roll Call notes. Friday was the second day of the committee’s markup of its portions of the budget bill.
The committee on Thursday approved a measure ensuring 12 weeks of paid family leave for U.S. workers who have at least four hours of caregiving duties a week. It also approved a provision aimed at bolstering Americans’ retirement savings by requiring employers without retirement plans to automatically enroll workers in individual retirement accounts. That measure also would expand a federal credit for savers, making it refundable so that people with low or moderate incomes who don’t owe federal income taxes can still receive the benefit. The retirement provisions are projected to cost about $47 billion over 10 years, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.
Column of the Day: A Double Standard in Discussing the Democratic Budget
Should we be calling the Democratic budget reconciliation bill a $3.5 trillion package? That’s the maximum Democrats can spend on their agenda of social safety net expansions, based on the budget resolution they passed. But Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell argues that there’s a double standard in how the public accounts for and debates Republican and Democratic tax and spending plans.
The 2017 Republican tax overhaul, she says, was usually referred to as a $1.5 trillion tax cut because that was the original estimate for the law’s net cost over 10 years, an estimate that was later revised to nearly $2 trillion. “If, however, we had counted only the law’s gross costs (i.e., without offsetting revenue-raisers, such as the cap on state and local tax deductions), its price tag would have looked multiple times more expensive,” she writes. “But that’s exactly how most politicians and journalists are tallying the ‘cost’ of Democrats’ safety-net-and-climate legislation.”
Democrats, Rampell points out, are planning to offset at least some of the cost of their new plans via higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, meaning that the net cost of the legislation will be lower than the $3.5 trillion being discussed. Democrats are likely to bring that topline figure down as they negotiate the details of their bill and face pressure from moderates in the party, and the reconciliation instructions they passed allow for up to $1.75 trillion to be added to deficits over a decade. The ultimate net cost could be lower, and the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have said they’d like the bill to be fully paid for, though that’s not likely to happen.
“The $1.75 trillion maximum net cost has gotten almost no attention, while the $3.5 trillion gross figure dominates news coverage,” Rampell notes, adding that this has bothered some White House officials. “And the framing matters because it has been distorting congressional negotiations,” she says.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has reportedly said he’s open to a maximum of $1.5 trillion, but it’s not clear if that’s net or gross. Analyst Chris Krueger of the Cowen Washington Research Group told clients Friday he believes it’s the former, which would mean about $2 trillion of the package would need to be offset. But Rampell suggests it might mean gross costs. “That severely constrains what programs Democrats can create or expand, no matter how enormous the offsets are,” she writes.
Rampell also points out that there’s a logic behind the differences in how the Republican and Democratic plans were discussed. “[I]t makes intuitive sense to think about tax changes in net terms, because so many tax provisions interact with each another,” she explains. “Meanwhile, some Democrats emphasize their agenda’s gross costs because they want to play up the scale of progressive ambitions. … So progressive leaders don’t guide the debate away from that $3.5 trillion gross figure, and reorient discussions toward (smaller) net costs, as White House officials might prefer.”
The bottom line: We still don’t know how much the Democratic spending and tax plans will cost, and Democrats still have to bridge internal differences over their agenda and how they want to push it publicly.
Read Rampell’s full piece at The Washington Post.
Numbers of the Day
11: Unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely than vaccinated people to die from Covid-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. The unvaccinated were 4.5 times more likely to get infected and 10 times more likely to be hospitalized. “As we have shown, study after study, vaccination works,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
8.3%: The producer price index rose 0.7% in August, the Labor Department reported Friday, higher than expected. On an annual basis, prices paid by producers are up 8.3%, the largest increase on that measure dating back to 2010. “The data comes amid heightened inflation fears fed by supply chain issues, a shortage of various consumer and producer goods and heightened demand related to the Covid-19 pandemic,” CNBC reported. “Federal Reserve officials expect inflationary pressures to ease through the year, but they have remained stubbornly persistent, with Friday’s numbers indicating that the trend likely will continue.”
- Why $46 Billion Couldn’t Prevent an Eviction Crisis – Glenn Thrush and Conor Dougherty, New York Times
- Every Democrat Should Support Closing the Step-Up Basis Loophole – Ben Ritz, Forbes
- Closing the Stepped-Up Basis Loophole – Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget
- Biden’s New Vaccine Push Is a Fight for the U.S. Economy – Jim Tankersley, New York Times
- It'll Be a Challenge for Biden to Set Up His New Vaccination Requirements – Rachel Roubein, Washington Post
- Biden’s Done His Part on Vaccines. Now (Gulp!) It’s Up to America – Walter Shapiro, New Republic
- Biden’s Six-Step Covid Strategy Does Not Go Far Enough to Compel Vaccinations – Leana S. Wen, Washington Post
- Biden’s Vaccine Mandate Is a Big Mistake – Robby Soave, New York Times
- No More Excuses: All Health Care Workers Should Be Fully Vaccinated – Dr. Amesh Adalja, The Hill
- Wonking Out: I’m Still on Team Transitory – Paul Krugman, New York Times
- Reality Bites Reconciliation – Kimberley A. Strassel, Wall Street Journal
- The Coverage and Cost Effects of Key Health Insurance Reforms Being Considered by Congress – Jessica Banthin et al, Urban Institute