Happy Wednesday! On this date in 1885, the Washington Monument was dedicated. Here’s what’s going on today.
White House Slams House GOP for Taking ‘Vacation’ Instead of Passing Ukraine Aid
The White House continues to slam House Republicans for heading out to a lengthy "vacation" without providing additional funding for Ukraine or addressing the border.
"The damage House Republicans are actively causing to American national security mounts every day that they insist on continuing their two-week vacation," White House spokesman Andrew Bates wrote in a release first reported by Politico.
President Joe Biden and the White House have been criticizing Speaker Mike Johnson and House Republicans for refusing to take up a $95.3 billion supplemental spending package that was approved by the Senate on a bipartisan basis.
After making remarks Friday about the death of Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny, Biden laid into lawmakers about taking an extended Presidents’ Day break and the lack of Ukraine funding. "It's about time they step up — don't you think? — instead of going on a two-week vacation. Two weeks they're walking away. Two weeks. What are they thinking? My God, this is bizarre," Biden said, adding, "it's just reinforcing all the concern and — and almost, I won't say ‘panic,’ but real concern about the United States being a reliable ally. This is outrageous."
Bates on Wednesday said Johnson is putting "his own internal politics above the safety of the American people."
The speaker has been calling for one-on-one negotiations with Biden on the supplemental spending package and border security. He reportedly told Republicans at a private meeting last week that there is "no rush" to address the Ukraine funding issue. he has dismissed the Senate-passed bill for not including border security provisions, though he also helped doom a bipartisan Senate deal that did include such measures. Johnson said that bill fell short of securing the border and insisted that Biden has the authority to enact security measures on his own.
"No amount of memos from the White House can change the fact that House Republicans were clear from the very beginning: any national security supplemental should start at our own border," Johnson spokesperson Taylor Haulsee told Politico Wednesday.
House lawmakers are due to return to the Capitol on February 28. "The House Republican leadership has been holed up at the luxury waterside Mandarin Oriental in Miami for its annual Elected Leadership Committee retreat," Punchbowl News noted this morning. "This session followed [a National Republican Congressional Committee] donor event at the Ritz-Carlton in Key Biscayne, Fla., over the weekend."
Biden Administration Forgives Another $1.2 Billion in Student Loans
The Biden administration announced plans Wednesday to forgive $1.2 billion in student loans for 153,000 borrowers participating in the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) program.
Rolled out last summer in the wake of the Supreme Court’s rejection of an earlier plan that would have eliminated up to $20,000 in student loan debt for millions of borrowers, the SAVE program focuses on debt forgiveness for those who have been making payments on their loans for at least 10 years — a big reduction from the 20- or 25-year term previously required to qualify for forgiveness in most cases. Borrowers can claim up to $12,000 in debt forgiveness at the 10-year mark and earn an additional $1,000 in forgiveness for every year of payments after that.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Tuesday that the latest round of student loan debt forgiveness reflects the Biden administration’s "unapologetic commitment to deliver as much relief as possible to as many borrowers as possible, as quickly as possible." He added that the program provides "real, immediate breathing room from an unacceptable reality where student loan payments compete with basic needs."
The Biden administration says the SAVE program will cost $156 billion in total, while the Congressional Budget Office estimated that a similar plan would cost roughly $230 billion over 10 years.
A personal message: With White House officials expressing frustration that President Joe Biden isn’t getting the credit he deserves for his economic program, which includes substantial amounts of student loan forgiveness, the Department of Education will make sure that all of those who have their debts forgiven will know whom to thank.
"Congratulations—all or a portion of your federal student loans will be forgiven because you qualify for early loan forgiveness under my Administration’s SAVE Plan," says an email message from Biden that will be sent out to beneficiaries. "I hope this relief gives you a little more breathing room." (See the full message here.)
More than $100 billion forgiven overall: According to the White House, the current administration has now forgiven nearly $138 billion in student loan debt for about 3.9 million borrowers through a variety of programs. The U.S. Department of Education provided a breakdown of the major forgiveness efforts so far:
* $56.7 billion for more than 793,000 borrowers through fixes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program;
* $45.6 billion for 930,500 borrowers through improvements to income-driven repayment plans;
* $11.7 billion for 513,000 borrowers with a total and permanent disability;
* $22.5 billion for 1.3 million borrowers through closed school discharges, borrower defense and related court settlements.
Quote of the Day
"If we are not going to secure significant policy changes or even keep spending below the caps adopted by bipartisan majorities less than one year ago, why would we proceed when we could instead pass a year-long funding resolution that would save Americans $100 billion in year one?"
‒ A group of 28 House conservatives led by Freedom Caucus Chairman Bob Good of Virginia, in a letter to Speaker Mike Johnson seeking an update on the status of more than 20 possible policy riders they want to see included in government funding bills. The conservatives have been pressing for right-wing policy wins that would have no chance of being adopted by the Democratic-led Senate and could ensure a government shutdown when current funding for federal agencies expires on March 1 and March 8. The option of a year-long continuing resolution cited in the letter would involve automatic spending cuts of 1%, which many on the right see as preferable to a bipartisan deal that would set spending at higher levels.
With an Eye on National Security, Biden Administration to Invest $20 Billion in Ports
Worried about security threats to U.S. ports, the Biden administration said Wednesday that it plans to invest more than $20 billion over the next five years in port infrastructure, including cranes to be manufactured in the U.S. for the first time in decades.
U.S. officials are increasingly concerned about possible attacks on domestic infrastructure by China in the event of a conflict over Taiwan. According to White House officials speaking to reporters on Tuesday, nearly 80% of cranes currently operating in U.S. ports are made in China, which has dominated the global supply. The cranes can be programmed and controlled remotely, leaving them open to possible exploitation by Chinese authorities.
The funds for the investment come from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill President Biden signed into law in 2021. The money will be used to support a U.S. subsidiary of Matsui, a Japanese manufacturing firm, which will produce cranes domestically for the first time in 30 years.
Anne Neuberger, U.S. deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, said port infrastructure represents a real security risk. "These cranes, because they are essentially moving the large-scale containers in and out of port, if they were encrypted in a criminal attack, or rented or operated by an adversary, that could have real impact on our economy’s movement of goods and our military’s movement of goods through ports," she said, per The Wall Street Journal.
Chinese officials have reportedly dismissed the concerns over hacking threats as "paranoia-driven."
Number of the Day: 10,000
U.S. companies own more than 10,000 airplanes, and the IRS announced Wednesday that it plans to crack down on improper tax deductions taken by business executives who sometimes use the aircraft for private travel, including vacations.
"Personal use of corporate jets and other aircraft by executives and others have tax implications, and it’s a complex area where IRS work has been stretched thin," IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said in a pun-packed statement Wednesday. "With expanded resources, IRS work in this area will take off. These aircraft audits will help ensure high-income groups aren’t flying under the radar with their tax responsibilities."
Fiscal News Roundup
- GOP Privately Expects Government Shutdown – Axios
- ‘Why Would We Proceed’: House Conservatives Float Yearlong Spending Stopgap as Deadline Looms – Politico
- White House Slams House Republicans Again for Going on Recess Instead of Taking Action on Ukraine Aid – CNN
- How Many Heads of State Does It Take to Get a Bill on the House Floor? – Slate
- Tall Order for Lawmakers to Finish Spending Bills Next Week – Roll Call
- Trump Tax Cuts on the Line in 2024 Election – The Hill
- Federal Reserve Minutes: Officials Worried That Progress on Inflation Could Stall in Coming Months – Associated Press
- Senators Press for Speedy Release of Promised Food Aid as Global Crises Intensify – Politico
- House Dems Press Drug Companies on Nationwide Shortages – The Hill
- Trump and Allies Planning Militarized Mass Deportations and Detention Camps – Washington Post
- It’s Been 30 Years Since Food Ate Up This Much of Your Income – Wall Street Journal
Views and Analysis
- Congress Is Hurtling Toward a Government Shutdown – Ed Kilgore, New York
- Bidenomics Is an Easy Sell If Presented Broadly Enough – Claudia Sahm, Bloomberg
- What the Ukraine Aid Debate Is Really About – Ross Douthat, New York Times
- Many Americans Believe the Economy Is Rigged – Katherine J. Cramer and Jonathan D. Cohen, New York Times
- It’s Getting Harder for States to Find the Income-Tax Sweet Spot – Megan McArdle, Washington Post
- Does Biden Have to Cede the White Working Class to Trump? – Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times
- This Tax Season, Let the IRS Do the Work – Ann M. Murphy, The Hill