Hope you’re having a good Wednesday! Former president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were back in the White House today for the unveiling of their official portraits. The 44th president thanked the artist Robert McCurdy for his work, saying he did “a fantastic job” on his portrait. “You’ll note that he refused to hide any of my gray hairs, refused my request to make my ears smaller,” Obama said. “He also talked me out of wearing a tan suit.”
Here’s what else is going on.
Manchin Criticizes Biden’s Student Debt Relief Plan
The West Virginia Democrat who played a key role in passing President Joe Biden’s climate, health care and tax bill last month says he does not support the White House's plan to forgive billions of dollars in student loan debt.
“I just thought that it was excessive,” Sen. Joe Manchin told reporters Tuesday. “I just respectfully disagree on that.”
Manchin said that he would have taken a different approach on student debt. “When people were calling me from back in West Virginia, I would give them all the options they had that would reduce their loan by going to work in the federal government,” he said. “You have to earn it.”
Other Democrats agree: Some Democratic lawmakers – especially those in tight reelection contests this fall – have expressed similar concerns. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), the Democratic candidate for Senate in a state that has been leaning farther to the right, made it clear that he does not support the White House plan.
“As someone who’s paying off my own family’s student loans, I know the costs of higher education are too high,” Ryan said last week. “And while there’s no doubt that a college education should be about opening opportunities, waiving debt for those already on a trajectory to financial security sends the wrong message to the millions of Ohioans without a degree working just as hard to make ends meet.”
Ryan said he would have preferred to give tax breaks to low- and middle-income households, provide some degree of medical debt cancellation for all Americans, and offer loan refinancing for those with student debt.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, another Democrat facing a tough reelection battle, recently criticized the plan for failing to address the basic problem of the price of higher education. “We should be focusing on passing my legislation to expand Pell Grants for lower-income students, targeting loan forgiveness to those in need and actually make college more affordable for working families,” she said.
Not all Democrats in tight races are distancing themselves from Biden’s plan, however. Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire – the target of a $23 million ad campaign funded by the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC that backs Republicans – recently said she supports the White House effort.
"The rising cost of higher education has led to greater and greater debt for far too many Granite Staters,” Hassan said. “While I do not support canceling all student debt – believing instead that we need to focus on targeted relief and bringing down the cost of higher education – the administration's announcement is a balanced compromise approach that will help those who need it the most.”
White House defends the plan: Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Wednesday defended the Biden debt forgiveness effort, saying it was a one-time event driven by the economic dislocations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The intent of this debt relief is to make sure borrowers are not worse off after this pandemic than they were before,” Cardona told reporters.
Still, Cardona acknowledged that one-time debt relief won’t solve the long-term problem of high educational costs. That’s why the White House also reduced the required monthly payments on student loans from 10% of discretional income to 5%, he said. And the administration is looking into additional steps to ensure that colleges provide “a better return on investment.”
“The worst thing that could happen is for us to provide debt relief and be in the same position five years from now,” Cardona said. “So if we don't stop the bleeding, we're going to be in the same position we're in.”
Republicans Signal Opposition to New Covid Funds
GOP lawmakers said Wednesday that they have no interest in providing additional funds for the federal response to Covid-19 and monkeypox.
As we told you yesterday, the Biden administration plans to request $47 billion in emergency funding as part of a bill that needs to pass before October 1 in order to avoid a government shutdown, with $22.4 billion for Covid-19 and $4.5 billion for monkeypox.
But Republican Senators told Politico’s Marianne Levine and Burgess Everett that the White House should use unspent money from previous emergency spending packages – and that Democrats have already spent too much.
“They do $1.9 trillion in March of last year, which ignited inflation, and now they just write off — I think illegally — student loans for another $300 billion?” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA). “And now they’re coming back for more. At some point you’ve got to tell the alcoholic no.”
Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) agreed that Republicans would have “zero interest” in new funding, while predicting that “this process will get really messy the more things they try to drop in.”
Although GOP opposition means there’s a good chance the emergency funding request will be withdrawn, Democrats say they will push ahead. “I hope we can persuade them,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). “It’s in everybody’s interest to get that funding both for Covid and monkeypox. It’s important to public health and I do think there are a number of Republicans who recognize that.”
Number of the Day: $15 Million
Thanks to funding provided by Democrats’ sweeping climate bill, the IRS will spend $15 million examining how to create a free, government-backed tax filing system – one that would replace at least some portion of the for-profit system that currently benefits a handful of private tax preparation companies like Intuit TurboTax and H&R Block.
“The IRS is completely beholden to the software companies at this point because it just doesn’t have anything to replace them,” former national taxpayer advocate Nina Olson told The Washington Post.
Don’t expect a free system anytime soon, though, since it could take years to build a workable alternative – a task made more difficult by the current woeful state of technology at the tax agency. “Many other IRS systems would have to be modified to accommodate this,” said Terry Lutes, the IRS’s former director of electronic tax administration. Still, “I can’t picture a world 50 years from now where people don’t just go on to a government website and do their tax return.”
House Republicans to Release a Political Agenda
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is expected to release a Republican agenda intended to persuade voters to support the GOP in November, Axios’s Andrew Solender and Alayna Treene report.
Echoing Newt Gingrich’s wildly successful “Contract with America” from 1994, which helped produce huge gains for Republicans in the first midterm election of the Clinton presidency, the four-part “Commitment to America” will be unveiled in Pittsburgh on September 19.
Unlike the Gingrich “Contract,” though, the document will be relatively brief and light on details. Solender and Treene say the four themes will be a strong economy, national security, government accountability, and “a future that is free,” which apparently has something to do with education, health care, and free speech.
The bottom line: “No one is predicting 1994-level margins of victory for the GOP this year,” Solender and Treene write. But even a modest agenda could give Republicans something to talk about other than their dislike of President Biden. In addition, “McCarthy's strategy of taking back the majority differs vastly from that of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who's refused to release a legislative agenda,” Solender and Treene say.
- Congress Confronts Funding Deadline – The Hill
- Senate GOP Delivers Early Blow to Biden’s COVID and Monkeypox Request – Politico
- Schumer Pledges to Pass Manchin Deal Despite Democratic Opposition – The Hill
- Cardona Defends Student Loan Plan as ‘One-Time’ COVID-19 Remedy – Roll Call
- ‘There’s a Lot of People Celebrating Prematurely’: GOP Could Bring a Legal Challenge to Block Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness Plan – CNBC
- Biden Administration Jumps Into Rail, Union Talks Hoping to Avert Strike – Politico
- Fed on Path for Another 0.75-Point Interest-Rate Lift After Powell’s Inflation Pledge – Wall Street Journal
- The Fed Won’t Say It Out Loud, but It Really Wants a Higher Unemployment Rate, David Rubinstein Says – CNN
- Doctors Lobby Congress for Medicare Payment Bump, Again – Roll Call
- EV Tax Credit May Be Out of Reach for Most Consumers – Roll Call
- Climate Law a ‘Game Changer’ for Highways and Bridges – New York Times
- Pentagon Suspends F-35 Deliveries After Discovering Materials From China – Politico
- US Trained Ukrainian Missileers Who Sunk Russian Warship, Pentagon Official Says – Defense One
Views and Analysis
- Congress’s First Job Right Now: Safeguarding Democracy – Washington Post Editorial Board
- In Defense of Partisanship – E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post
- Funding Parental Leave Today with Tomorrow’s Social Security Benefits Won’t Work – Veronique de Rugy and Charles Blahous, Mercatus Center
- Obamacare Is Under Attack by Republican Judges Again. Here’s What’s at Stake – Ian Millhiser, Vox
- The Educator Expense Deduction: It May Be Time to Trade This Token Benefit – Renu Zaretsky, Tax Policy Center
- The U.S. Has Led the War on Drugs Abroad for Decades, and It’s Been a Staggering Failure – Christy Thornton, New York Times
- Why Are American Lives Getting Shorter? – Siobhan McDonough, Vox
- America Is a Rich Death Trap – Derek Thompson, Atlantic