Biden Touts Rare Win to Close an Awful Week

Biden Touts Rare Win to Close an Awful Week

U.S. President Biden speaks about Bipartisan Infrastructure Law at the White House in Washington
KEVIN LAMARQUE
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Friday, January 14, 2022
It’s Friday! President Joe Biden and Democrats have to be saying “TGIF” today, given the absolutely brutal week of setbacks they’ve had. Here’s the latest.

White House Rolls Out First Batch of Infrastructure Spending

The White House announced on Friday the release of $5.3 billion for the repair and construction of bridges, the first installment of the $27 billion provided for such work in the bipartisan infrastructure package President Joe Biden signed into law two months ago.

Speaking at the White House, Biden highlighted one of his most significant legislative accomplishments so far at a time when other major portions of his agenda seem to have stalled out. “My bipartisan infrastructure law includes the largest investment in our nation's bridges since the creation of the Interstate Highway System,” Biden said.

In a fact sheet providing an overview of planned infrastructure spending, the White House said that with the release of the funds for bridges, “the Administration has made key progress towards implementing the largest long-term investment in America’s infrastructure and competitiveness in nearly a century.”

Still, Biden — whose Build Back Better plan is stalled in the Senate, whose effort to expand protections for voter rights has been derailed by fellow Democrats and whose effort to require vaccines for millions of workers was just shot down by the Supreme Court — tipped his hat to the many problems he has encountered lately. “There's a lot of talk about disappointments and things we haven't gotten done — we're gonna get a lot of them done, I might add — but this is something we did get done,” he said.

The bridge program will help repair an estimated 15,000 highway bridges, with about half of the money flowing to the 10 states that have the most need, including Pennsylvania, California and Illinois. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave American bridges an overall “C” grade in 2021, estimating that the country would need to spend about $125 billion to bring all of them into good repair.

Lawmakers Look to Finally Make Progress on Government Spending Deal

We’re more than three months into fiscal year 2022, and congressional lawmakers have yet to agree on full-year spending levels. A stopgap bill passed late last year staved off a potential government shutdown by funding agencies through February 18, but lawmakers continued to be at loggerheads over full-year spending levels.

That’s started to change this week, as the top four appropriators in Congress met Thursday — “amicably,” Politico’s Jennifer Scholtes and Marianne LeVine note — to break their stalemate ahead of the February deadline to fund the government, now five weeks away. “The four of us had constructive talks of where we go and how we get there and how we start,” Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters after the meeting. “And we hadn't worked that out yet, and we’re going to continue to talk and meet.”

Lawmakers are reportedly considering including another round of Covid funding in that legislation as well as a Democratic plan to provide paid pandemic leave to many Americans. “The early talks about pandemic relief have explored ways to boost testing, expand the availability of vaccines, invest in therapeutics and shore up any small businesses that still need financial help,” The Washington Post’s Tony Romm reports in a piece that provides some good background on how we got here. “Some Democrats also hope to provide fresh relief to families, including those who have missed out on work — and paychecks — as a result of the fast-spreading omicron variant.”

The bottom line: The talks, and lawmakers’ comments about them, are a good indication that that long-stalled annual budget and appropriations process is finally moving, but the proposal to provide more pandemic aid also faces uncertainty and plenty of the hurdles that have delayed a deal to this point also remain.

“Republican leaders continue to insist that Democrats agree upfront to maintain dozens of controversial policy restrictions — known as ‘riders,’ like the ban on using federal money for abortions — that crop up every year during government funding debates,” Politico reports. “Democratic leaders have blasted Republicans' insistence that they give in from the get-go to policy restrictions that were baked into prior funding bills, despite controlling both Congress and the presidency.”

Quote of the Day: Missing the Monthly Child Tax Credit

“This tax credit is the only way we’ve kept food on the table. ... For a lot of the working poor, it gave us a chance to finally take a freaking breath and not stress so much about how the bills get paid every month.”

Melissa Roberts, a resident of Marks, Mississippi, in a Washington Post piece detailing how families are bracing for the loss of the monthly advance child tax credit payments, which had been going out since July but lapsed at the end of the year. Roberts reportedly hasn’t been able to find a job since she left her old one as an insurance agent at the start of the pandemic when her employer wouldn’t let her work from home.

Democrats had hoped to extend the enhanced tax credit payments — up to $300 per child for 35 million families — for another year as part of their Build Back Better economic and environmental plan, but that bill stalled out in the Senate last month when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he couldn’t support it. While the previous child tax credit remains in place, and tax filers can still claim half of the expanded credit that wasn’t paid out monthly, Democrats still hope to renew their more generous program.

“For now, Democratic leaders remain focused on winning over Manchin, rather than trying to work out a compromise with Senate Republicans even though several have expressed interest in expanding the current credit,” Roll Call reports. “A version that could win at least 10 GOP votes to pass the Senate could involve cutting off undocumented immigrants and maintaining work requirements, among other obstacles to a bipartisan deal.”

In the meantime, many of the families that have benefitted from the expanded tax credit will face financial pressures. “It’s safe to say that with this program gone, child poverty will certainly increase,” Zachary Parolin, a researcher at Columbia University’s Center on Poverty & Social Policy, told the Post. “Parents were using this monthly payment right away — to buy food, cover rent and pay off debt — so when January 15th rolls around and that $300 check isn’t there, a lot of families are going to be in more difficult economic conditions.”

How to Get Your Free Covid-19 Tests

Americans will be able to order free Covid tests starting next Wednesday, January 19, the White House announced Friday.

Half of the one billion tests ordered by the Biden administration will be available starting next week at a government-run website — https://www.covidtests.gov/ — with each household allowed to order four tests. The test kits will be delivered at no cost, with shipments beginning seven to 12 days after the orders are made. A phone-based ordering system will also be rolled out for those without internet access.

The federal government has completed contracts to acquire about 420 million tests so far, The Wall Street Journal reports, with tens of millions of tests already in hand. Administration officials are confident they will be able to secure the full 1 billion.

In a fact sheet, the White House highlighted the need for frequent Covid testing and noted that there are multiple options for doing so. There are now more than 20,000 free testing sites nationwide, the White House said, while millions of free at-home tests have already been provided to community health centers. In addition, starting on Saturday, January 15, private health insurance companies will be required to cover the cost of up to eight at-home COVID-19 tests per person each month.

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