Republicans Clash Over Their Agenda as Biden Pitches His

Republicans Clash Over Their Agenda as Biden Pitches His

U.S. Senate Republicans hold weekly policy lunch at U.S. Capitol in Washington
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Tuesday, March 1, 2022
Welcome to March! President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address is just a couple of hours away. Will you be watching?

As Biden Pitches His Agenda, Republicans Clash Over Theirs

President Joe Biden is expected to lay out a lengthy agenda in his State of the Union speech tonight, touting the benefits of the bipartisan infrastructure bill he signed while calling on Congress to enact a host of other plans.

While a response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine will undoubtedly be front and center in Biden’s speech, the president will also push for measures that he says will lower costs for families, ask lawmakers to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and create a national paid family leave program. He’ll also look to revive other elements of the stalled legislative package that used to be known as the Build Back Better plan, including clean energy tax credits.

Biden will also outline a "unity agenda" of items that he believes both parties can support, including programs to improve mental health care, ease telehealth rules and "end cancer as we know it."

Senate Republicans split on their agenda: Biden’s talk of a unity agenda raises the question again of just what’s on the GOP agenda — a question that has divided Senate Republicans and did so again in a very public way on Tuesday.

While much has been made of the Democratic divisions that have derailed major portions of Biden’s domestic agenda, Republicans’ own intraparty splits when it comes to detailing an election-year agenda have lately centered on an 11-point plan released by Sen. Rick Scott of Florida.

We told you last week that Scott’s conservative "Rescue America" blueprint for the GOP drew quick criticism from both the Left and Right for, among other things, seeking to have all Americans "pay some income tax to have skin in the game" — a proposal that harkens back to Mitt Romney’s controversial 2012 makers-vs.-takers framework, which, you may recall, both wasn’t accurate and failed to win Romney the election.

It’s that second part in particular that seems to be concerning some of Scott’s fellow Republicans right now. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) "advised Scott at a GOP leadership meeting on Monday afternoon that his 11-point proposal gave Democrats ammunition for millions of dollars of ads in the midterms," Politico’s Burgess Everett and Marianne LeVine report, citing multiple sources briefed on the meeting.

McConnell made abundantly clear Tuesday that he doesn’t support Scott’s plan.

"If we’re fortunate enough to have the majority next year, I'll be the majority leader. I'll decide in consultation with my members what to put on the floor," McConnell said in response to a question at the Senate Republican leadership’s news conference. "Let me tell you what would not be a part of our agenda. We would not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years. That will not be part of a Republican Senate majority agenda."

McConnell and others have opted not to detail their policy plans if they should win control of Congress, preferring to keep attention on Biden and the Democrats. "We’re going to keep our focus on inflation, crime, the border and Afghanistan. And some of these other things are things to think about … after the election is over," Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told Politico.

And Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), running for an eighth term in the Senate at age 88, defended McConnell’s approach: "As a practical matter, you wouldn’t count your chickens before the eggs are hatched," he told Politico. "McConnell is putting all of his effort into winning because if we don’t win in November, there isn’t such a thing as a Republican agenda."

The bottom line: McConnell and a number of other Senate Republican leaders have been emphatic that they would not support Scott’s tax proposal. "I'm not for increasing anybody's income tax, whether they pay zero or they pay a lot," Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) told reporters, and Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) said he didn’t know of any other senator running for re-election who would back the Scott tax plan. As for what their agenda might include, McConnell kept it vague, saying that a Republican-controlled Senate would focus on "inflation, energy, defense, the border and crime."

Quote of the Day

"We’ve hit a snag."

McConnell, at the Senate GOP news conference, announcing to reporters that negotiators working on a full-year omnibus appropriations bill have again run into differences over defense spending levels.

US to Release Millions of Barrels of Oil From Strategic Reserve

As oil prices on Tuesday jumped above $105 a barrel for the first time since 2014, the U.S. and its allies announced a plan to release 60 million barrels from reserve into the world market.

The U.S. will release 30 million barrels from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, while allies including Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan and South Korea will collectively release an additional 30 million barrels.

In a memorandum, President Joe Biden said the drawdown of oil "is required by U.S. obligations under the International Energy Program implemented by the International Energy Agency," which the U.S. joined in 1974.

The 31 member nations of the International Energy Agency collectively hold 1.5 billion barrels of oil reserve. The release represents about 4% of its stockpile.

Headquartered in Paris, the International Energy Agency was founded in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis, with the mission of maintaining stable oil supplies. The group said Monday that its release would "send a unified and strong message to global oil markets that there will be no shortfall in supplies as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine." The group also "expressed solidarity with the people of Ukraine and their democratically elected government in the face of Russia’s appalling and unprovoked violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity."

The group noted that "Russia plays an outsized role on global energy markets. It is the world’s third largest oil producer and the largest exporter. Its exports of about 5 million barrels a day of crude oil represent roughly 12% of global trade – and its approximately 2.85 million barrels a day of petroleum products represent around 15% of global refined product trade."

In a statement, the White House said the plan "is another example of partners around the world condemning Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine and working together to address the impact of President Putin’s war of choice."

Still, some analysts are skeptical that the release will move the needle on rising oil and gas prices. "The bottom line is this is not enough to cool off the market," Michael Tran of RBC Capital Markets, told CNN. "It's a bit of a band-aid solution."

Do Higher-Price Hospitals Deliver Higher-Quality Care?

A new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research asks, "Do Higher-Priced Hospitals Deliver Higher-Quality Care?"

Anyone familiar with $10 Band-Aids and $12 aspirins will probably be able to answer the question pretty easily: No, higher prices in health care do not necessarily mean higher-quality care.

For those who are not convinced, the latest study provides another piece of evidence that, at least in markets lacking competition, higher prices for emergency health services have no measurable effect on mortality rates.

However, where there is competition among service providers, higher prices can be associated with a slight reduction in mortality.

Here’s how the authors of the paper summarize their findings:

"We analyze whether receiving care from higher-priced hospitals leads to lower mortality. ... Being admitted to a hospital with two standard deviations higher prices raises spending by 52% and lowers mortality by 1 percentage point (35%). However, the relationship between higher prices and lower mortality is only present at hospitals in less concentrated markets. Receiving care from an expensive hospital in a concentrated market increases spending but has no detectable effect on mortality."

In other words, when you have little choice for receiving emergency health care, hospitals may raise their prices without providing higher levels of service. As with so many things, monopoly conditions produce higher costs but not better products.

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