Happy Halloween from New York, where neither of your authors dressed up as Fed Chair Jay Powell this year. Powell and Fed policymakers kicked off a two-day meeting today but are expected to hold interest rates steady — and they just may be done with their rate-hiking campaign. We’ll find out more tomorrow, but in the meantime here’s what else is happening.
The Brewing Congressional Battle Over Aid to Israel and Ukraine
Top Democratic and Republican Senate appropriators expressed support Tuesday for the White House’s $106 billion emergency funding request including assistance to both Israel and Ukraine, signaling that the Senate might be headed for a clash with House Republicans who this week left out aid to Kyiv from an aid plan they want to vote on this week.
New House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana has made clear he intends to “bifurcate” the emergency assistance and allow his members to vote on each aid request separately — an approach the Biden administration warns would undermine the Ukrainian effort against Russia. The House plan also proposes to cut IRS funding to offset the emergency spending. “The House GOP leadership team considered a host of bipartisan pay-fors, but opted to cut IRS money with hopes of dividing Democrats and solidifying GOP support,” Punchbowl News reported Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer criticized the House plan. “I am deeply troubled that yesterday, House Republicans released a partisan and woefully inadequate package with no aid to Ukraine, no humanitarian assistance for Gaza, no funding for the Indo-Pacific, and in addition, poison pills that increase the deficit and help wealthy tax cheats avoid paying their fair share,” he said in remarks on the Senate floor. “In short, it makes it much, much harder to pass aid for Israel. It’s insulting that the hard right is openly trying to exploit the crisis in Israel to try and reward the ultra-rich.”
‘This is all one fight’: The White House’s requested security funding package includes $61.4 billion for Ukraine, $14.3 billion for Israel, $13.6 billion for U.S. border security, $11.2 billion in humanitarian aid and more than $5 billion for allies in the Indo-Pacific region.
At a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III testified that the Biden administration’s request is urgent and should move forward as a single package to help preserve U.S. global leadership.
“We now stand at a moment where many are again making the bet that we’re too divided, we’re too distracted at home to stay the course. That’s what’s at stake with President Biden’s national security supplemental funding request,” Blinken said during testimony that was interrupted repeatedly by anti-war protestors.
He later added: “To put it succinctly, for our adversaries—be they states or non-states—this is all one fight. And we have to respond in a way that recognizes that. If we start to peel off pieces of this package, they’ll see that, they’ll understand that we are playing whack-a-mole while they cooperate increasingly and pose an ever-greater threat to our security as well as to that of our allies and partners.”
Bipartisan backing in the Senate: Democrats and Republicans on the panel backed the idea of quickly passing a combined aid package, though some Republicans also called for additional funding for border security.
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, who chairs the Appropriations panel, agreed that the aid needs are intertwined. “Make no mistake: We need to address all of these priorities as part of one package—because the reality is these issues are all connected, and they are all urgent,” she said in her opening remarks. “The Chinese government is watching how we respond to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. Putin is hoping the Hamas attack will give him an opening and distract the world from aiding Ukraine against his brutal invasion, and all of our adversaries are watching closely to see whether we have the vision to recognize how these crises are related, and the resolve to come together and respond forcefully to them. Our adversaries are cheering for dysfunction. So let’s instead show them unity.”
Republicans remain divided over additional aid to Ukraine, though most GOP senators reportedly favor providing more funding. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been vocal in calling for continued support for Kyiv and did so again on Tuesday. And Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, also joined in calling for a combined package. “Some have argued for decoupling funding to address these threats, and focusing only on the Iranian-backed terrorists, who massacred so many Israelis on October 7,” she said. “We must recognize that our national security interests are being aggressively challenged by all these authoritarian actors in an effort to dismantle the international order that we established following World War II.”
Collins also emphasized that she and Murray plan to pass all 12 annual appropriations bills. “As former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates once told me, the most important action Congress can take to bolster our national security is to pass full-year appropriations bills to avoid the harm to military readiness that comes from short-term funding patches or sequestration,” she said.
The bottom line: The administration’s request has bipartisan support in the Senate, meaning that a showdown with the House GOP is likely coming soon.
Healthcare Costs Making Americans Poorer and Sicker: Report
A new report by the nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund confirms what many of us already know: Paying for healthcare in the U.S. is often a struggle, even for those who have insurance.
The Commonwealth Fund Health Care Affordability Survey finds that many Americans lack the coverage they need to obtain medical care at an affordable price. As a result, a significant number of people delay necessary care and become sicker, even as they build up debt for the medical treatment they do receive. The difficulties are widespread, and experienced even by those who have employer-sponsored health insurance, coverage through the federal marketplaces, and Medicare and Medicaid.
Some highlights from the survey, which was conducted via a nationally representative sample of 7,873 adults between April 18 and July 31, 2023:
* Fifty-one percent of those between the ages of 19 and 64 reported difficulty in affording health care costs. That includes 51% of Medicare recipients, 43% of those with employer-sponsored plans, and 76% of those without health insurance.
* Many survey respondents said they or a family member had skipped care or prescription drugs due to cost in the last 12 months, including 29% of those with employer coverage and 42% of those with Medicare.
* A majority in all coverage categories said that delaying care due to expense made them or a family member sicker, including 54% of those with employer coverage and 63% of those with Medicare.
* Having health insurance doesn’t necessarily protect people from medical debt, with 30% of those with employer coverage saying they were paying off medical or dental debt.
The bottom line: “Health care costs are deterring many Americans from getting the care they need, with deleterious effects on their health,” the report concludes. “While our survey’s findings show that it’s much better to have insurance than to go without, they also indicate that insurance frequently fails to provide affordable access to care for large segments of the U.S. population.”
Chart of the Day: To Tax or Not to Tax That Twix Bar
Should the candy that gets handed out by the bagful on Halloween be taxed? States have answered that question in different ways. Here’s a guide to candy taxation in your local grocery store, via the website LedgerGurus. We can’t vouch that the information here is still current, but we can say that the wide variety in tax approaches might make you sour on the sweets.
Fiscal News Roundup
- Biden’s Aid Plan for Israel, Ukraine Looks to Have Broad Senate Support – Washington Post
- Speaker Johnson Faces Immediate Backlash to First Legislative Move – Washington Post
- Johnson’s Israel Proposal Runs Into Stiff Senate Opposition – The Hill
- Speaker Johnson Set to Meet With Senate GOP as Ukraine Funding Battle Looms – The Hill
- Schumer: House GOP’s Israel Package Is ‘Woefully Inadequate’ – The Hill
- ‘Putin Will Be Successful’ if Lawmakers Cut Ukraine Funding, Top Leaders Warn – Politico
- House Deals With Shutdown Threat Under Speaker Johnson: 5 Things to Watch – The Hill
- Before the Fed Decision, All Eyes Will Be on This Big Treasury Debt Announcement Wednesday – CNBC
- What to Watch for as the Federal Reserve Meets This Week – New York Times
- A Key Measure of Wages Grew at a Moderate Pace This Summer – New York Times
- Unions Are Winning Big for the First Time in Decades – Bloomberg
- Wisconsin Governor Sues GOP Lawmakers for ‘Obstructing Basic Government Functions’ – The Hill
- Facing a Strong Economy, Fed Puzzles Over How to Slow It Down – Washington Post
Views and Analysis
- Defending Israel Is Essential. So Is Aiding Civilians in Gaza – Antony J. Blinken, Washington Post
- Decoupling Military Aid for Israel and Ukraine Would Be a Grave Mistake – Richard Kraemer, The Hill
- House Republicans: No Aid for Israel Unless Rich Tax Cheats Get a Break – Jonathan Chait, New York
- Debunking the Latest Attack on Social Security – Robert Kuttner, American Prospect
- A Strong Safety Net Helps the Whole US Economy – Betsey Stevenson, Bloomberg
- The Nation’s Need for a Debt Commission – Adam Brandon, The Hill
- Hard-Right Republicans Say They Hate Government, but They Sure Love the Power – Nicole Hemmer, CNN
- The Military-Industrial-Complex Complex – Paul Krugman, New York Times
- Halloween Candy Raises Spooky Tax Questions – John Buhl, Tax Policy Center