Happy Thursday! It's almost the weekend, unless you're a member of the Senate, which, as usual, has already adjourned until Monday.
Rand Paul Blocks Quick Senate Passage of $40 Billion Ukraine Aid Bill
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on Thursday blocked speedy Senate passage of a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine, defying leaders of both parties who urged lawmakers to approve the military and economic assistance quickly and warning that “we cannot save Ukraine by dooming the U.S. economy.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had called on both Republicans and Democrats “to help us pass this urgent funding bill today,” but Paul refused to allow the unanimous agreement the Senate needed to proceed to a vote on the bill. Paul wanted language inserted into the bill to have a federal watchdog oversee the Ukraine aid.
“I’m not allowing a speedy passage of the bill without having something fiscally responsible in the bill,” Paul told reporters, and in a speech on the Senate floor he criticized the additional deficit spending, warning that it fuels inflation and ignores domestic priorities. “We will have to borrow that money from China to send it to Ukraine,” he said. “With a $30 trillion debt, America can’t afford to be the world’s policeman.”
Paul rejected a deal reached by McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that reportedly would have brought the aid bill to a vote, with Paul’s language as an amendment, after lawmakers first considered a stand-alone bill from Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) to establish a special inspector general for the Ukraine aid.
“As the war in Ukraine extends into its third month, we have a moral obligation — a moral obligation — to stand with Ukraine in its fight against Putin’s immoral war,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “The package is ready to go. The vast majority of senators on both sides of the aisle want it. There is now only one thing holding us back: The junior senator from Kentucky is preventing swift passage of Ukraine aid because he wants to add, at the last minute, his own changes directly into the bill. His change is strongly opposed by many members from both parties. He is not even asking for an amendment. He is simply saying, my way or the highway.”
Schumer later added that Paul’s remarks made it clear he doesn’t want to aid Ukraine. “All he will accomplish with his actions here today is to delay that aid, not to stop it,” Schumer said.
The bottom line: Paul “has a long history of demanding last-minute changes by holding up or threatening to delay bills on the brink of passage, including measures dealing with lynching, the defense budget and providing health care to the Sept. 11 attack first responders,” Alan Fram of the Associated Press writes.
Paul’s objection here will delay the Senate vote on the Ukraine aid package until at least next week. If the Senate ultimately makes changes to the bill, it would force the House to vote on it again before it could go to President Joe Biden’s desk, threatening to further delay funding that the Biden officials have said is needed by May 19.
World Leaders Pledge $3.1 Billion for Global Covid Fight as US Domestic Funding Stalls
U.S. and foreign leaders attending the Biden administration’s global Covid-19 summit have pledged another $3.1 billion to fund the global fight against the virus, the White House said Thursday.
Appearing at the summit, President Joe Biden called on world leaders to maintain their focus on combating the virus. “There’s still so much left to do; this pandemic isn’t over,” he said. “We have to prevent complacency.”
About $2 billion of the money will be used for the immediate response to Covid-19, including the distribution of therapeutics and vaccines, and $962 million will go toward a “new pandemic preparedness and global health security fund at the World Bank.” Germany made the biggest pledge, $1.5 billion, while Canada offered $732 million and South Korea pledged $300 million. The U.S. pledged $200 million for pandemic preparation, adding to the $19 billion it has pledged previously to the overall effort.
The pledges come amid concerns that the war in Ukraine and growing economic worries are distracting from the global push to combat the pandemic. Krishna Udayakumar of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center told Politico that the money, while welcome, is likely insufficient. “It is important that new resources, including funding, are being committed to the pandemic response,” he said. “In the current climate, $3.1 [billion] may be more than expected, but falls far short of even the [global health response] funding gap for this year, which is almost $15 [billion].”
U.S. effort stalls: Biden has asked lawmakers for another $22.5 billion to maintain and expand the U.S. response to the coronavirus, but that request, whittled down by lawmakers to $10 billion, is stalled in Congress. The emergency aid package shrank following disputes over how to pay for it, with Republicans insisting that no new funds be allocated, and the smaller package is being delayed by a GOP effort to include an amendment that would keep a health rule known as Title 42, which allows the U.S. to deport immigrants due to health concerns, in place at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Republicans are also growing increasingly skeptical about the U.S. vaccination effort, Axios’s Caitlin Owens reports. Although the vaccines have proved to be highly effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths, they are less effective at preventing the spread of the most recent variants of Covid-19, and some Republicans don’t want to spend money on vaccines that may be losing their punch. Republicans have also raised questions about the way vaccines are distributed, with some going to waste once their multi-shot containers are opened.
To critics, the objections to the funding request raised by Republicans are hard to digest, especially in light of the recent uptick in Covid cases in the U.S. “Looking to save money on wasted doses is fiscal conservatism as pathology,” writes Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine. “The shortsightedness of this position is almost unfathomable. It is difficult to conceive of a less intelligent way to save the government money than to skimp on vaccines and therapeutics. The scale of the savings in vaccine subsidies is in the billions, and the cost of the pandemic is measured in trillions.”
Quotes of the Day
“We thought that if the economy performs about as expected, that it would be appropriate for there to be additional 50-basis point increases at the next two meetings, so. But I would just say, we have a series of expectations about the economy. If things come in better than we expect, then we’re prepared to do less. If they come in worse than when we expect, then we’re prepared to do more.”
– Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, newly confirmed by the Senate to another four-year term as head of the central bank, confirming in an interview with Marketplace that interest rate hikes of a half percentage point are likely at each of the Fed’s next two meetings.
"Nobody has been stupid enough to say them out loud, let alone put them in a plan and put it on a website.
– Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic strategist and partner at the bipartisan firm Rokk Solutions, as quoted by Roll Call about an 11-point plan released earlier this year by Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) that called for all Americans to pay some federal income tax and for all federal laws to sunset or be renewed after five years. Democrats, including President Biden, have hammered the plan and sought to portray it as indicative of what Republicans would do if they win control of Congress. Roll Call reports that the Democratic National Committee is launching a Facebook ad campaign aimed at seniors in Senate battleground states and focused on the Scott plan. The senator, meanwhile, is reportedly launching his own ads in which he says: "I’ve got a plan to rescue our country. Washington hates it. That’s how you know it’s good."
- Senate Falters in Push to Pass $40B Ukraine Aid – Politico
- US Producer Prices Rise More Than Forecast in Sign of Persistent Inflation – Bloomberg
- Biden Drags His Feet on Student Loan Plan as Allies Urge Bold Action – Bloomberg
- Senate Confirms Powell for Second Term as Fed Chief – The Hill
- Climate Bill Talks in ‘Good Place,’ Whitehouse Says – Roll Call
- White House Announces $150M Investment in Southeast Asia – The Hill
- Restaurant, Small-Business Aid Bill Vote Expected Next Week – Roll Call
- Lawmakers Press for Semiconductor Manufacturing Tax Credits on China Bill – The Hill
- Biden Orders Federal Flags to Fly at Half-Staff as the U.S. Covid Toll Nears One Million. – New York Times
- New Senior-Focused Ads From Democrats Hit Scott’s Plans for Medicare, Social Security – Roll Call
- Rise in Income Inequality Linked to Poor Health Outcomes, Study Finds – The Hill
- Meatpackers Hyped ‘Baseless’ Shortage to Keep Plants Open Amid COVID – Washington Post
Views and Analysis
- Biden’s American Rescue Plan Worsened Inflation. The Question Is How Much – Andrew Prokop, Vox
- Senate Republicans Want to Save Money by Skimping on Vaccines – Jonathan Chait, New York
- ‘Where Was the Strategy for Getting People Ready to Start Taking the Vaccine?’ – Kathy Gilsinan, Politico
- 5 Risks if Congress Does Not Pass New COVID-19 Funding – Peter Sullivan, The Hill
- The Fed Shouldn’t Rule Out Faster Tightening – Bloomberg Editors
- A Recession Won't Be as Scary as It Sounds – Allison Schrager, Bloomberg
- Yellen Is Right About the Costs of Overturning Roe – Julianna Goldman, Bloomberg
- Ron DeSantis Is Being Incoherent on Inflation – Peter Coy, New York Times
- The Most Pivotal Elections in 2022 Are Not the Ones You Think – Barbara McQuade, New York Times
- A Million Covid Deaths Later, Americans Are Still Confused About the Virus – Faye Flam, Bloomberg