House Republicans Plot Their Return to Power

House Republicans Plot Their Return to Power

U.S. President Joe Biden holds a formal news conference at the White House
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Friday, March 25, 2022

Welcome to the weekend! Will St. Peter's continue its fairy-tale run in the NCAA men's basketball tournament? Who will win at the Oscars? And will the big changes to the movie industry’s big evening help reverse last year’s record low ratings — or are people really over these awards shows?

Before you enter weekend mode, here’s what else you should know.

What Can Dems Do About Soaring Gas Prices?

The Biden administration is looking for ways to address high gasoline prices, which are inflicting economic pain on households all over the country. Ideas that are being discussed include suspending the federal gas tax, releasing supplies from the national oil reserve and providing additional incentives for energy producers, Jeff Stein of The Washington Post reports.

Some Democratic lawmakers are also pushing for a “windfall tax” on large energy companies. On Friday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) took the idea a step further, calling for a 95% tax on excess profits at all large oil and gas companies, many of which have seen a major boost to their profits during the pandemic. The tax would be applied to companies that have more than $500 million in revenue, with the level of excess profits determined by average earnings in the five years before the Covid-19 crisis.

“The time right now is to tell the 1% and the CEOs of this country that this economy can’t just do well for them,” Sanders told the Post. “They cannot continue to raise prices.”

Many economists, though, worry that a windfall tax, whether on energy companies or applied more broadly, would exacerbate existing supply problems by reducing corporate investment. “You would think drillers will be more hesitant to invest if they think they’ll be taxed for doing so,” economic Adam Ozimek of the Economic Innovation Group said. “We want to encourage investment, not discourage it.”

But some think that a punitive tax on windfall taxes could be effective in reducing big price hikes. “If you had excess profits tax, firms would say, ‘I could raise prices a ton, but those profits will be taxed away, so I’ll just keep prices low,’” economist Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute said.

Lawmakers eye checks: A trio of Democratic representatives — Reps. Mike Thompson (CA), John Larson (CT) and Lauren Underwood (IL) — released a proposal to provide direct payments to Americans to help defray the cost of fuel. Under their plan, households under certain income limits ($80,000 per year for single filers and $160,000 for joint filers) would receive up to $100 per month, plus another $100 for each dependent, as long as the national average price of gas exceeds $4 per gallon.

A separate plan from Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) would provide rebates to consumers on a quarterly basis, funded by a tax on large oil producers. Companies that produce or import at least 300,000 barrels of oil per day would pay a 50% per barrel tax on revenues that exceed a pre-pandemic average. The lawmakers estimate that the tax would produce about $45 billion a year if oil prices average $120 a barrel — enough to provide about $360 in rebates per year to joint filers earning less than $150,000.

And California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) this week announced that he wants to provide state residents with direct payments of $400 per vehicle, up to a limit of two vehicles. If California lawmakers approve the plan, checks could arrive as soon as July.

The bottom line: There’s a lot of talk about bringing down fuel prices and some interesting proposals for providing relief for American consumers, but it’s not clear that there is enough political will to do so, and it’s probably best not to count on getting a rebate check until any such money is safely deposited in your bank account.

House Republicans Plot Their Return to Power

House Republicans hoping — or expecting — to win control of the chamber in November huddled at a retreat in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, this week to plot out their election plans and an agenda for once they take over.

The GOP needs to gain five House seats to reclaim the majority, a number that should be eminently reachable. “But while Republicans have numbers on their side in the election, what they would do with a majority is very much a work in progress,” Farnoush Amiri of the Associated Press reports.

For the moment, at least, Republicans are talking about more than just obstructing President Biden’s agenda. “House Republicans are spending their time doing a lot more brainstorming about what they should bring to the floor, rather than what they should block,” Politico notes. “House Republicans have spent months drafting their policy wishlist, tackling issues like border security, energy production, inflation.”

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarty of California outlined some priorities in an interview with Punchbowl News. “McCarthy declared the first thing he will do if Republicans take the majority is get rid of proxy voting and remove the magnetometers from around the House chamber,” Punchbowl says. “And the GOP’s first pieces of legislation will include an energy independence package, a ‘Parents’ Bill of Rights,’ a bill to secure the border and one to target the proliferation of fentanyl in the U.S.”

McCarthy reportedly added that he plans to investigate the origins of Covid-19 and the embarrassing process of U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. He also told Punchbowl that he wants Congress to use a 20-year window instead of 10 years when projecting the federal budget.

The bottom line: For all the House GOP’s optimism, managing a Republican majority has proven daunting for recent party leaders — and would undoubtedly pose challenges for McCarthy in an era when former President Donald Trump still holds tremendous sway with members of the party.

“Hard-right members of the conference are ascendant, creating headaches with their inflammatory actions and statements,” the AP’s Amiri writes. “Many in the party are likely to welcome new rounds of brinkmanship over government spending and the debt. And some Republicans are already agitating for partisan investigations of figures like Dr. Anthony Fauci and President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, that could easily overshadow their legislation.”

And Katherine Tully-McManus of Politico’s Huddle suggests that the fate of party leaders’ plans “may be up to a small faction of their GOP conference, who are already eager to deprive Joe Biden of political wins at any turn. And it’s that same group that could determine whether the GOP can govern at all, on those more rudimentary chores like funding the government and raising the debt limit.”

Manchin Ready to Talk Energy and Climate Bill: Report

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is bringing back the Build Back Better bill, sort of. The name may be dead — and many of the provisions of the bill passed by the House last year likely are as well — but Manchin has restarted discussions with fellow Democrats on a climate and energy package, The Washington Post reports.

Manchin effectively scuttled the previous version of Democrats’ climate and social spending package when he declared late last year that he could not get to yes on it. That announcement derailed talks on the bill, but Manchin has indicated he would be open to legislation that included climate measures such as clean energy tax credits as well as provisions addressing prescription drug costs, reforming the tax code and reducing the deficit.

The senator, who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has reportedly also indicated that he’s looking for the administration to make some concessions on boosting oil and gas drilling and natural gas exports. “Senator Manchin is always willing to engage in discussions about the best way to move our country forward,” a spokesperson told the Post via email. “He has made clear that we can protect energy independence and respond to climate change at the same time.”

With midterm elections looming, Manchin reportedly has told colleagues that the legislation must be brought to a vote before senators leave town for their August recess.

Chart of the Day: Vaccination Slowdown

Vaccinations for Covid-19 have “all but ground to a halt,” The Washington Post reports Friday. The number of initial shots and boosters has fallen to 182,000 per day on average, the lowest level since vaccines first became available in December 2020. By comparison, the rate stood at 692,000 shots a day as recently as February 10.

The lack of booster shots is of particular concern, experts say. While about 68% of Americans aged 65 and older have received a booster shot, only 34% of those aged 18 to 29 have done so, and just 44% overall.

The situation is particularly worrisome because the U.S. is bracing for a new increase in Covid-19 cases, driven by the BA.2 subvariant, though experts are unsure about how severe the new surge could be. Still, many feel that more could be done to prepare. “This is an unforgivable liability that we did not get people boosted at a much higher level,” Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told the Post.


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