Nel's New Day

April 10, 2021

GOP Opposes Another Popular Bill

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 12:02 AM
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Republican congressional members maintain they will not vote for any infrastructure bill no matter what—even if they haven’t seen any of the provisions–and lie about it. People need to understand what the word “infrastructure” means. Politico has put together a definition from dictionary resources:

“The system of public works of a country, state or region; also the resources (such as personnel, buildings or equipment) required for an activity.”

The word is derived from “infra,” meaning “below,” and “structure” meaning “an assembling.” Structure refers to both the physical and the social abstract, including resources, organization, and personnel who do the work. The system for building is a type of structure. “Public works” includes highways, bridges, and schools as well as parks, telephone lines, water systems, broadband, and the delivery of energy. It’s anything built for public use, enjoyment, or activity.

GOP legislators are 100 percent opposed to an infrastructure bill, but 79 percent of the U.S. people want repairs to roads, bridges, ports, and railroads. Seventy-one percent want high-speed internet, 68 percent want lead pipes replaced and tax credits for renewable energy, and 64 percent want higher taxes on corporations to pay for this infrastructure. Support for President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan for the infrastructure include 57 percent from Republicans and 67 percent from independents.

Twice as many people, 54 percent, want the infrastructure paid for with people making over $400,000 than without tax hikes; by comparison, 47 percent prefer a raise on corporations with 21 percent less likely to support it with th54% said they supported infrastructure improvements with tax increases on corporations and Americans making over $400,000,  In contrast, 47% of voters polled said that they’d be more likely to support a $3 trillion funded by a corporate tax increase, while 21% said they’d be less likely to support it.

Much has been said about the $2 trillion for the proposed bill, but that amount is covered over eight years. The cost would be about 20 percent of what taxpayers shell out for defense every years.

To kill the bill before it’s even introduced, Republicans claim only 5 to 7 percent is for “real infrastructure.” They deny inclusion of not only home-care services and electric-vehicle incentives but also of water pipes, electric wires, and railways—infrastructure that Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) promoted in 2018. In addition, Republicans deny any increase in corporate taxes that DDT shaved from 35 percent to 21 percent in 2017. Infrastructure would require a raise to 28 percent, a 20 percent decrease from pre-2017. Job growth in the last three Obama/Biden era with a 35-percent tax rate was stronger than the first three years of the DDT/Pence era despite the drop in tax rate to 21 percent.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg answered South Dakota’s GOP Gov. Kristi Noem’s complaint that “this isn’t infrastructure—it’s got money for pipes.” He explained people need water to live and pipes have lead poisoning. Broadband is infrastructure, according to Buttigieg, because of school and work via Zoom. Conservatives also slammed Buttigieg for biking from his office to the White House for a Cabinet meeting. They claimed he had “staged” a photo-op instead of using his bicycle for his own transportation. Videos show they’re wrong.

Mississippi’s GOP Gov. Tate Reeves told Biden cutting taxes would pay for infrastructure, the same falsehood used to push through the 2017 draconian tax cuts that gave no help to the U.S. economy. On the other hand, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reports that raising taxes on corporations will make the tax code fairer and not hurt the economic recovery. The study also pointed out the severe income inequality caused by the tax cuts. A corporate tax increase would fall on the wealthiest “people who have already recovered from (or never experienced) the recession.” “Policymakers [should] prioritize still-struggling households” affected by corporate tax hikes to fund public investments. According to Biden, “Nobody making under $400,000 a year will have their taxes increased.” Note that Republicans, refusing to create jobs through the infrastructure proposal because of giving back only 50 percent of the tax cut four years ago, are trying to pass themselves off as the party of the people.

Using his familiar incoherent language, DDT ranted that Biden was using the infrastructure proposal to “build up” China. During DDT’s term, almost every week was labeled infrastructure, but he completely failed to accomplish any building, let alone the vast rebuilding of U.S. infrastructure he promised. The objection to Biden’s plan is exacerbated by a serious case of GOP sour grapes.

Republicans will need a lot of deflections to convince they are the party of the people by opposing Biden’s American Jobs Plan. When talking about his infrastructure proposal, Biden said:

“In 2019, an independent analysis found that there are 91 … Fortune 500 companies, the biggest companies in the world, including Amazon that use various loopholes so they pay not a single, solitary penny in federal income tax. I don’t want to punish them, but that’s just wrong. That’s just wrong.  A fireman and a teacher paying 22%? Amazon and 90 other major corporations paying zero in federal taxes? I’m going to put an end to that.”

GOP senators represent states desperate for infrastructure help. Mississippi, represented by Roger Wicker, has needs in every area from roads to drinking water, and Missouri, represented by Roy Blunt, said his said the “country need[s] a significant infrastructure upgrade.” They oppose the any idea of tax increases.

Yet 80 percent of the Fortune 500 companies paid an average of 11 percent because of GOP loopholes, exemptions, and giveaways. Last year, 55 of the country’s biggest corporations paid zero federal income tax on over $40 billion in profits while receiving a combined federal rebate of over $3 billion which gave them a tax rate of negative 9 percent. Since the GOP tax cut in 2017, 26 corporations including FedEx and Nike, paid the same zero federal income tax on a combined income of $77 billion.

Republicans ignore the rich history of government infrastructure investment pushing economic growth. In the 1950s, the GOP president successfully promoted the entire interstate project. The Republicans of the Dwight Eisenhower era of the 1950s supported research and development to repair infrastructure as well as developing technologies for future economies. It was a time when government investment was a much higher share of GDP than now and far higher tax rates on both corporations and the wealthy. The top tax rate was 91 percent. Compare the tax rate difference between the Republican infrastructure of the 1950s and Biden’s proposal. 

Long before that, however, New York state built the Erie Canal between 1818 and 1825 for $7 million, the equivalent of a $1 trillion today as the share of GDP. Land grants were behind higher education and the railroads. The first Roosevelt, Teddy, built the Panama Canal, and the second, FDR, provided electricity to rural areas. All these would be considered “out-of-control socialist spending spree,” according to current Republicans. At the same time, DDT’s tax cuts not only didn’t help the economy, but it also gave money to the 40 percent of foreigners who own U.S. stocks. In addition, the 2017 tax cuts encouraged U.S. corporations to invest overseas. DDT and the GOP members of Congress wanted the bill only to save money on their own taxes and get more donations from grateful businesses.

The U.S. ranks 13th in the world for infrastructure quality, and public domestic investment fell over 40 percent since the 1960s as a share of the economy. History proves tax cuts don’t cause economic growth as wealth moved upward since Ronald Reagan, with U.S. billionaires acquiring an additional $1 trillion, a 38 percent increase, in a time of the worst poverty rate for over a half century. 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has put himself in control of what bills will pass the Senate. With a 50-50 split between the two party factions, the Democrats need everyone in their own party on board. Manchin, however, has announced that he won’t support bills without GOP votes, and Republicans have announced their policy of rejecting every Democratic bill. It’s obvious that Manchin is enjoying all the attention: WaPo has published of his op-ed, and the Senate cannot move forward while he won’t take part. Manchin warned of doing away with the filibuster for a simple majority vote, calling it a “new and dangerous precedent,” but his personal control over every bill in the Senate, including those passed by the House, fits that same description.

Blocking the infrastructure bill will be equally hard on Manchin and the GOP. Although Democratically-oriented cities will benefit, rural communities desperately need broadband access, the deficiencies in those areas heightened during the pandemic when far more activities have moved to remote communication. Other rural benefits would be the huge investment in alternative energy, much of it outside cities and a big income source for Iowa and Kansas farmers. Another provision is two years of tuition-free community college, now quite expensive. The GOP “party of inaction” unanimously voted against the stimulus bill and then tried to take credit for it. If the same thing happens for an infrastructure bill, they could lose all credibility by the 2022 elections.

April 2, 2021

Former GOP Leader Calls Republicans ‘Morons’ Controlled by Media

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 9:06 PM
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John Boehner was a GOP U.S. House representative for almost 30 years and his party’s leader for eight of them, the last four years the House Majority Leader. Following are excerpts from Boehner’s new book, On the House: A Washington Memoir:

“[In] the 2010 midterm election … you could be a total moron and get elected just by having an R next to your name—and that year, by the way, we did pick up a fair number in that category.”

About trying to teach the 87 people “who’d never sat in Congress [about] governing”: “I had to explain how to actually get things done. A lot of that went straight through the ears of most of them, especially the ones who didn’t have brains that got in the way. Incrementalism? Compromise? That wasn’t their thing. A lot of them wanted to blow up Washington. That’s why they thought they were elected.”

“Some of them, well, you could tell they weren’t paying attention because they were just thinking of how to fundraise off of outrage or how they could get on Hannity that night. Ronald Reagan used to say something to the effect that if I get 80 or 90 percent of what I want, that’s a win. These guys wanted 100 percent every time. In fact, I don’t think that would satisfy them, because they didn’t really want legislative victories. They wanted wedge issues and conspiracies and crusades.

“A lot of them wanted to blow up Washington. That’s why they thought they were elected…

“By 2011, the right-wing propaganda nuts had managed to turn Obama into a toxic brand for conservatives. When I was first elected to Congress [in 1990], we didn’t have any propaganda organization for conservatives, except maybe a magazine or two like National Review. The only people who used the internet were some geeks in Palo Alto. There was no Drudge Report. No Breitbart. No kooks on YouTube spreading dangerous nonsense like they did every day about Obama…

“And of course the truly nutty business about his birth certificate. People really had been brainwashed into believing Barack Obama was some Manchurian candidate planning to betray America. Mark Levin was the first to go on the radio and spout off this crazy nonsense. It got him ratings, so eventually he dragged Hannity and Rush to Looneyville along with him… Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News … got swept into the conspiracies and the paranoia and became an almost unrecognizable figure…

“[Ailes went] on and on about the terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, which he thought was part of a grand conspiracy that led back to Hillary Clinton. Then he outlined elaborate plots by which George Soros and the Clintons and Obama (and whoever else came to mind) were trying to destroy him.

“’They’re monitoring me,’ he assured me about the Obama White House. He told me he had a ‘safe room’ built so he couldn’t be spied on. His mansion was being protected by combat-ready security personnel, he said. There was a lot of conspiratorial talk. It was like he’d been reading whacked-out spy novels all weekend… And it was clear that he believed all of this crazy stuff…

“I have no idea what the relationship between Ailes and [Fox owner Rupert] Murdoch was like, or if Ailes ever would go off on these paranoid tangents during meetings with his boss. But Murdoch must have thought Ailes was good for business, because he kept him in his job for years.

“Places like Fox News were creating the wrong incentives. Sean Hannity was one of the worst. I’d known him for years, and we used to have a good relationship. But then he decided he felt like busting my ass every night on his show…

“Besides the homegrown ‘talent’ at Fox, with their choice of guests they were making people who used to be fringe characters into powerful media stars. One of the first prototypes out of their laboratory was a woman named Michele Bachmann … who had represented Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District since 2007 and made a name for herself as a lunatic ever since…

About his refusal to put Bachman on the powerful Ways and Means Committee: “This wasn’t a request of the Speaker of the House. This was a demand. Her response to me was calm and matter-of-fact. ‘Well, then I’ll just have to go talk to Sean Hannity and everybody at Fox,’ she said, ‘and Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and everybody else on the radio, and tell them that this is how John Boehner is treating the people who made it possible for the Republicans to take back the House.” I wasn’t the one with the power, she was saying. I just thought I was. She had the power now.

“She was right, of course…

“In January 2011, as the new Republican House majority was settling in and I was getting adjusted to the Speakership, I was asked about the birth certificate business by Brian Williams of NBC News. My answer was simple: ‘The state of Hawaii has said that President Obama was born there. That’s good enough for me.’ It was a simple statement of fact. But you would have thought I’d called Ronald Reagan a communist. I got all kinds of shit for it—emails, letters, phone calls. It went on for a couple weeks. I knew we would hear from some of the crazies, but I was surprised at just how many there really were.

All of this crap swirling around was going to make it tough for me to cut any deals with Obama as the new House Speaker…

“Under the new rules of Crazytown, I may have been Speaker, but I didn’t hold all the power. By 2013 the chaos caucus in the House had built up their own power base thanks to fawning right-wing media and outrage-driven fundraising cash. And now they had a new head lunatic leading the way, who wasn’t even a House member. There is nothing more dangerous than a reckless asshole who thinks he is smarter than everyone else. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Senator Ted Cruz. He enlisted the crazy caucus of the GOP in what was a truly dumbass idea. Not that anybody asked me.”

Paul Waldman uses Boehner’s perceptions to describe the conservative world today in which “the media tail came to wag the political dog”:

“Today, conservative media isn’t just a locus of power on the right. Its own needs, preferences and incentives set the party’s agenda to a greater extent than ever.

“That’s why so many of the key voices in the Republican Party today are concerned not primarily but entirely with their next media appearance, rather than the work of lawmaking. While there have always been ‘show horses’ in Congress, the party is now oriented almost entirely toward whatever keeps the Fox viewers from changing the channel.

“So while Democrats pass trillions of dollars in new spending, Republicans spend all their time whining about ‘cancel culture’ and trying to make life miserable for transgender kids. Instead of conservative media amplifying the party’s message, it’s the other way around…

“What Boehner calls ‘the crazy caucus of the GOP’ was already taking over when he was speaker, foreshadowing their increased dominance when the ultimate performative politician—Donald Trump—became president.

“And so, with complete GOP control of Washington in 2017, you didn’t see the emergence of serious conservative policy wonks making lasting and consequential change. While it might have happened here and there—Stephen Miller succeeded at making immigration policy as racist and cruel as possible—for the most part the crazy caucus was still in charge.

“Who were the dominant Republican figures of the era, beyond Trump himself? People like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), known for their endless Fox appearances and maniacal loyalty to Trump. They weren’t concerned with how to use power to create change; they just wanted to Own the Libs.

“Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), the party’s leader in Congress and nobody’s idea of a telegenic presence, turned out to be an absolute dud as a legislator. After easily passing a tax cut for the wealthy and corporations (not exactly hard to do), he managed no further legislation of consequence.

“In many ways, you can draw a straight line between Newt Gingrich, the central Republican figure of the 1990s, through the tea party, then through Sarah Palin, then through Trump, and finally to the Jan. 6th rioters and far-right extremists like Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.). Boehner shows us how this through line really started to unravel.

“All those figures wanted to make politics as coarse and bitter as possible, and define Democrats as not just wrong but evil. The conflict between the right and the left, Gingrich once told a conservative audience, ‘has to be fought with a scale and a duration and a savagery that is only true of civil wars.’

“…And along the way, the destruction will continue piling up.”

Today the destruction was the killing of one Capitol Police officer and serious wounding by another because right-wing politicians—and media—demanded the outside protective fence around the U.S. Capitol be removed. 

March 29, 2021

Whither the GOP Filibuster

For the first time in four years, more voters, 46 percent, believe the U.S. is on the right track than the opposite. The economy is heading in the right direction, according to the 42-percent plurality of voters, a 13-percent improvement since January. Approval of President Joe Biden is still at 61 percent, and the pandemic management approval is 71 percent, up three points since February, all according to the new Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll. In January, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) received a 56-percent approval for the economy, his only rating above 50 percent, but Biden now has an approval of 60 percent on the economy and the same percentage for administering the government, compared to DDT’s rating of 49 percent approval.

Conservatives also struggle with the current popularity of For the People Act, the voting bill passing the House and waiting for Senate attention. A policy adviser for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and research director for the Koch-run advocacy group Stand Together, Kyle McKenzie, discovered “people were very supportive” by learning a “very neutral description” of the bill. McKenzie stated:

“The most worrisome part . . . is that conservatives were actually as supportive as the general public was when they read the neutral description. There’s a large, very large, chunk of conservatives who are supportive of these types of efforts.”

Even conservatives don’t want wealthy people buying elections through huge anonymous political donations. Unable to find persuasive arguments against voting rights, McKenzie told conservative activists the GOP senators need to use “under-the-dome” tactics to kill the bill. The bill could pass the Senate with a majority vote, but the current filibuster, enacted by any one senator sending in an email to protest a bill obstructs democracy by requiring 60 percent of the vote.

A simple Senate majority can change—even eliminate—the filibuster, but some Democrats are reluctant to agree. With Republicans determined to be intransigent enough to cause permanent gridlock for the 117th Congress, at least one senator, Angus King (I-ME), may be reversing his negative position toward a shift. In a WaPo op-ed, King wrote that he decided to support the filibuster because an opposing party could use it to erase important legislation as the Affordable Care Act. According to King:

“But this argument is sustainable only if the extraordinary power of the 60-vote threshold is used sparingly on major issues or is used in a good-faith effort to leverage concessions rather than to simply obstruct.”

King cited the voting rights protection to oppose the GOP “nakedly partisan voter-suppression legislation pending in many states” as a reason to fight the filibuster. He continued:

“If forced to choose between a Senate rule and democracy itself, I know where I will come down. As new Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) noted on the floor recently, ‘It is a contradiction to say we must protect minority rights in the Senate, while refusing to protect minority rights in the society.’”

Biden now supports the “talking filibuster,” opposition to a bill lasts only as long as the filibustering senator stands on the chamber floor and talks, and said the 60-vote requirement for any bill is “being abused in a gigantic way.” One exception to the filibuster, he said, is for laws “elemental to the functioning of our democracy—like the basic right to vote.” The biggest holdout to changing the filibuster, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) might be willing to move to the talking filibuster.

The Senate has radically changed since Biden defended the filibuster as a new senator. Once rare, filibustering obstructionism is business as usual. The 44 cloture motions filed during the first two years of Biden’s senate career were relatively high for the time, but Republicans almost doubled in 1993-94 to kill Clinton’s agenda. In the 2007-2008 Democratic Congress, McConnell saw 139 filibusters filed, and the number topped 200 in 2013-2014 during President Obama’s second term. The 2019-2020 Congress saw 339 cloture motions in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) may have found a way around filibusters to fund Biden’s policy initiatives. The Senate allows budget reconciliation only once a year to permit a majority of senators to pass a bill, and the Democrats used the one time to pass the $1.9 trillion stimulus relief law, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Passed in 1974, Section 304 of the Congressional Budget Act, however, allows a simple majority to revisit and amend an already-passed budget resolution, such as ARPA. The parliamentarian will decide whether Section 304 permits more reconciliation bills tied to revenue, spending, and the public debt during Fiscal Year 2021, ending the end of September.

McConnell’s first response to doing away with the filibuster—which he did to get three far-right justices on the Supreme Court—was to threaten a “scorched earth” in the Senate, highly punitive actions to block every bill. Then he joined other senators such as Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Graham to play victim. Biden agreed with former President Obama about the filibuster being “a relic of the Jim Crow era”; and McConnell claimed the filibuster “has no racial history at all. None. There’s no dispute among historians about that.” Historians taught McConnell he was wrong.

Both the longest single-speaker filibuster and the longest multiple-speaker filibuster in U.S. history tried unsuccessfully to block two non-discrimination laws, the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964. The latter filibuster lasted 60 days before a bipartisan coalition stopped it. The 1957 law, the first federal civil rights legislation in almost 90 years, established a DOJ civil rights division and other measures to support the right to vote for Blacks. Virulent segregationist Strom Thurmond, a South Carolina Democrat until 1964, personally filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes, the longest speaking one by a single senator.

Other failures during the past century show the racist and bigoted use of the filibuster:

  • During the Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction periods, senators filibustered against civil rights bills.  
  • Bills outlawing racist lynching, first introduced in 1922, didn’t pass until 2018, but the GOP House refused to take action.
  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965 survived a filibuster, but Jesse Helms’ (R-NC) brief filibuster destroyed an extension to strengthen its provisions after a Supreme Court decision required proof of discrimination by covered jurisdictions. Even that weaker provision of the Voting Rights Act disappeared in John Roberts’ court, the 2013 decision permitting rampant racist discrimination by laws sweeping across the U.S.

Newly-elected Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), elected before his state passed a draconian set of anti-voting laws hurting his 2022 re-election chances if not overturned, described nationwide anti-voting laws as “Jim Crow in new clothes.” In his first speech on the Senate floor, he said about the requirement for 60 percent of senators to pass any legislation, “No Senate rule should overrule the integrity of our democracy.” He explained:

“I’m not here to spiral into the procedural argument over whether the filibuster in general has merits or has outlived its usefulness. I’m here to say that this issue is bigger than the filibuster. This issue, access to voting and preempting politicians’ efforts to restrict voting, is so fundamental to our democracy that it is too important to be held hostage by a Senate rule, especially one historically used to restrict expansion of voting rights.

“It is a contradiction to say we must protect minority rights in the Senate while refusing to protect minority rights in the society. We must find a way to pass voting rights whether we get rid of the filibuster or not.”

Warnock denounced the 253 voter suppression bills in 43 states introduced since January as “democracy in reverse” and attempts by Republican politicians to “cherrypick their voters.” Warnock declared, “This cannot stand.”

Other losses from the filibuster:

  • A bipartisan piece of popular legislation including gun background checks from Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) after the horrific Newtown massacre.
  • Government shutdowns resulting from huge omnibus bills with multiple “riders” designed to get around filibusters.
  • Bad legislation from the reconciliation process, created by Ronald Reagan in 1981, to use a simple majority for passage.  
  • GOP refusal to undertake any bills alleviating climate change.

Norm Ornstein, a Democratic at a conservative think tank, suggests ways to honor minority rights instead of using the filibuster “as a weapon of mass obstruction.”

“Instead of having 60 votes required to end debate, have 41 required to continue with 41 members… Make the minority have to debate the actual issue. No reading Green Eggs and Ham to waste time.  You’d have to talk about why you are blocking, say, a universal background check bill supported by 94% of Americans.

“…Return to that ‘present and voting’ standard.  So it matters how many Senators actually show up.  If 20 of them don’t show up, you only need 48 votes to end debate. Again, make the minority do the work…

“Reduce the threshold to end debate outright. You could reduce it down to 55 Senators. But you could also be more creative. Former Senator Tom Harken’s idea was to step down the threshold as you debate a bill. So start with a level of 60 votes for a couple of weeks. And then lower the bar to 57, and then 54, and then 51. So ultimately the majority is going to have the ability to act, but there’s plenty of time devoted to the minority.”

The Senate is already rigged for the minority: the 50 Republicans currently in the Senate represent 41 million fewer people than the 50 Democrats. The Senate has been marked for inaction for years. It’s time to legislation to more forward, to do more than Republicans putting highly conservative and frequently inexperienced judges on the federal bench. And it’s time for Republicans to constructively work for elections rather than employing a system to “cancel voters.”

March 17, 2021

GOP Votes Oppose Help for U.S. People

Wednesday, 172 House Republicans voted in favor of domestic violence and opposed a law’s renewal to protect women. The Violence against Women Act, originally passed in 1994 and periodically requiring reauthorization, faces increasing struggles as Republicans oppose funding to protect women from domestic abuse, sexual assault, and stalking. Objections this year came from ensuring accountability for non-tribal offenders on tribal lands and closure of the “boyfriend loophole,” barring stalkers from obtaining firearms. The bill includes housing vouchers to help survivors in federally-assisted housing to quickly relocate if necessary. Another provision permits people to obtain unemployment insurance if they must leave a job for their safety.

With COVID-19 forcing people to stay at home, domestic violence incidents have sharply risen within the past year, and organizations have offered more flexible texting services and housing assistance. One report shows an eight-percent rise in domestic violence, and another study shows an increase of injuries at emergency room patients from this violence.

The bill requires 60 Senate votes to pass because of the watered-down filibuster. Now, one person can announce a filibuster, and no action is taken until 60 percent of senators move it forward.  Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) has already said that barring a stalker from owning a gun to menace a domestic partner with a gun is unconstitutional.

The lack of GOP support for women came the day after a young white man killed eight people in Georgia, six of them women of Asian descent. The reason, according to the killer, was an attempt to avoid “temptation” for his “sex addiction.” The killer was having “a bad day,” explained the officer, who has posted racist COVID messages on social media. He said that the alleged killer “was pretty much fed up and had been kind of at the end of his rope.” The young man was apprehended on his way to Florida to kill more women. He said he had frequented massage parlors and killed the people, seven of them women, for “vengeance.”

Organizations studying and tracking hate groups and violence described “male supremacy terrorism,” driven by aggrieved male entitlement and a desire to preserve traditional gender roles. Three years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism began tracking male supremacist ideology, and the Anti-Defamation League published a report called “When Women are the Enemy: The Intersection of Misogyny and White Supremacy.” According to the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, the ideology’s two core beliefs are that “men are entitled to sexual access to women” and that “feminists are a malevolent force controlling society at the expense of men.” Men have used these beliefs to justify mass shootings at yoga and fitness studios frequented by women, the slaughter of 10 people in Toronto in 2018, and the 2011 shooting deaths of 77 people in Norway by Anders Breivik, who viewed feminism as a significant threat.

As right-wingers, led by former Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), used racist language to describe the global epidemic, Stop AAPI Hate reported 3,795 hate incidents including name-calling, shunning, and assault in the U.S. against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders during the past year. The number could be much higher because not all incidents are reported. Most were against women, in businesses, and on public sidewalks or streets, the report said. Other events included civil rights violations such as workplace discrimination or refusal of service and online harassment.

Last week, a 75-year-old defenseless Asian man was killed in Oakland’s (CA) Chinatown on his morning walk. A friend had warned him about the danger of being there because Asian people were being attacked. Carl Chan, the president of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, said that seniors were afraid to walk on the streets because of hateful attacks after political statements about the “Chinese virus” or the “kung flu.”

The suspected Georgia killer, who has confessed, was an active member with his parents in the evangelical church Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton (GA). Brett Cottrell, the youth and missions pastor from 2008 to 2017, talked about the killer’s participation “in everything we did.” Crabapple is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and theologically conservative with mostly white members. The group is opposed to “critical race theory, “intersectionality, and the social justice movement in Baptist circles.

In another House bill, passing by 413-12, the 12 self-professed “law and order” Republicans voted against giving the Congressional Gold Medal to the Capitol Police for their bravery on January 6 when insurrectionists stormed the building. According to the bill, the three medals would be displayed at the Capitol Police headquarters, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department headquarters, and the Smithsonian. Naysayers said they opposed the terrorist attack being called an insurrection. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) lobbied for a bill with no mention of January 6 or the Capitol attack. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) didn’t want the medal to be displayed at the Smithsonian. In February, the Senate voted to grant the Congressional Gold Medal to Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman for putting himself in harm’s way to protect lawmakers and staff during the assault on Congress.

First, Republicans tried to block the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) by unanimously voting against it. Almost three-fourths of people approved of ARPA, including 59 percent of Republicans, so those voting no tried to take credit for it. Now both President Joe Biden, VP Kamala Harris, and their spouses, Dr. Jill Biden and Doug Emhoff, are crossing the U.S. to talk about the benefits while the IRS has already sent out 90 million relief checks of $1,400 each. Republicans and the media criticize Biden for not spending enough time talking with the media, but he has historically talked to both small and large groups of people.  

Republicans hoped voters would turn against the law; now they are concerned Biden will move forward with more approval of his agenda. The real GOP concern is the 2022 election, a little more than a year away.

The RNC struggles with refuting ARPA after supporting deficit-spending such as massive cuts for the wealthy and businesses plus giving hundreds of billions of dollars to large businesses in a bill supposedly to save people from the economic pain of COVID-19. Earlier this year, they were overwhelmed by the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol and DDT’s impeachment for inciting violence.

People like ARPA because it benefits the middle class over wealthy people, helps with vaccinations, and supports the opening of schools. The GOP can only wish people will forget ARPA’s benefits before the election; Democrats are intent on that forgetfulness not happening. When Republicans try to take credit for ARPA benefits, Democrats say, “You voted against it.” Republicans are working on publicity about the immigrants at the southern border, but the issue has no connection to the relief bill.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin benefited Biden’s bill by stashing away “well over $1 trillion” at the end of DDT’s presidential term when he assumed the former White House would pass a sizeable relief bill. Almost 100 million people got their $1,400 checks within two days of ARPA’s signing instead of waiting two weeks as they did with DDT because he wanted his name on the check.

Even the House chaplain supported U.S. people in distress from DDT’s mismanagement of the pandemic. In a prayer, Rear Adm. Margaret Grun Kibben asked God to forgive Republicans:

“For when called upon to respond to a once-in-a-century pandemic that has rocked our country, upended its economy and widened the chasm of partisan opinion, they have missed the opportunity to step above the fray and unite to attend to this national crisis…

“In failing to address the acrimony and divisions which have prevailed in this room, the servants you have called to lead this country have contributed to the spread of an even more insidious contagion of bitterness and spite.”

Her reference to the New Testament’s letter to the Colossians argued that “rather than employing the preventive measures of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience,” lawmakers have set that “armor” aside “in favor of argument, disparaging words and divisiveness.” In recalling the Gospel of Mark’s third chapter of “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” she said Congress stands “in need of healing and reconciliation.”

Kibben concluded:

“Merciful Lord, rebuild this House, that their labor will not be in vain.”

ARPA will stay in the news if Ohio GOP AG David Yost continues his lawsuit against the Biden administration. He claims the prohibition of this federal money to states and municipalities to offset new tax cuts is unconstitutional. Ohio receives $11.2 billion, but GOP Gov. Mike DeWine ordered $390 million in new spending cuts among state agencies. Leaders of 21 other red states wrote Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that the provision “would represent the greatest invasion of state sovereignty by Congress in the history of our Republic.” A White House official pointed out states aren’t blocked from tax cuts: they just need to replace the revenue without using stimulus funds.

Not all Republicans are stupid about ARPA money. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) told the state’s Gov. Ron DeSantis to refuse all the money to the state. DeSantis has already made plans for spending his $10 billion.

March 7, 2021

COVID Relief Bill Passes Senate

Business in Congress is suddenly booming. While the GOP was in charge, most bills reaching the floor renamed buildings. In the two months since Congress went into session, the House passed at least 70 bills and resolutions. The Senate passed nine bills and resolutions, carried out an impeachment trial, and confirmed 13 Cabinet and Cabinet-level appointments. They also took a week’s vacation before President Joe Biden’s inauguration and worked to restructure the Senate after two elected Democratic senators in Georgia created a 50-50 split in the chamber.

Remarkably, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, called the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021, passed the Senate despite obstruction from Republicans and, occasionally, a few Democrats. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), trying to decide whether to run for re-election in 2022, tried to get GOP support. Known for his purveying Russian propaganda disinformation, especially while chair of the chamber’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, he forced the entire 628-page bill to be read aloud before debate.  

Passed by Democrats in the House, the modified bill lost the hourly $15 minimum wage before a unanimous vote by the 50 Democratic senators. With Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) absent, the remaining 49 Republicans lost the vote without VP Kamala Harris needing to break a tie. The bill returns to the House for a vote on the minor changes before it goes to Biden for a signature. He promised the bill would be passed before March 14 when the federal portion of the unemployment expires, and he may have succeeded. The increase of 379,000 new jobs last month—Biden’s first complete month on the job—may partly come from an optimism about the bill’s passage, but the U.S. has 9.5 million more unemployed workers than before the attack of COVID-19 who need the bill.

Unemployment benefits caused dissension among Democrats when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) threatened for nine hours to join GOP senators in lessening the bill’s weekly benefits. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) told Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), “The party that claims to want to help workers on their taxes won’t lift a finger.” Earlier in the year, House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had tried to paint Democrats as “anti-worker.” Then Democrats destroyed dozens of GOP amendments to drastically cut spending and assistance for local government. Republicans didn’t plan to vote for the bill; they only wanted to stall the process as they did over a decade ago with the Affordable Care Act. They also accused Democrats of not wanting unity, but the Dems declared unity with the 76 percent of people, including 60 percent of Republicans, who want the bill.  

Johnson’s ploy backfired at the end of staff members’ reading the bill until 2:00 am on Friday morning. The few Democrats still present passed Sen. Chris van Hollen’s (D-MD) motion to cut the debate time from 20 hours to only three; no Republicans were present to object, and votes on the amendments began Friday morning instead of 17 hours later.

Most Senate bills require 60 votes if someone calls for the filibuster, but Senate rules allow one bill each year under reconciliation for each of three categories: spending, revenue, and the federal debt limit. ARPA was passed under this rule. The filibuster requirement for the remainder of bills, mandating 60 instead of 50 votes, has been so watered down that senators use it for almost all bills. The Founding Fathers were opposed to more than a majority required to pass a bill, but the filibuster, or cloture, was formed with a Senate vote over a century ago when Woodrow Wilson wanted to arm merchant vessels in 1917. For decades, filibustering senators had to continue speaking on the Senate floor to stall bills: then-Sen. Strom Thurmond (D-SC) set the record with 24 hours and 28 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957 although the bill finally passed. By 1975, the filibuster rule was almost completely diluted: no 60 percent vote to agree on a filibuster, no talking on the Senate floor, almost no effort.

By the 21st century, one person can continue a filibuster without even being present until 60 senators vote against the filibuster. That’s the reason the number of annual filibusters has gone from about one to hundreds per year.

Contents of the bill:  

  • $1,400 checks per person for individuals making under $75,000 and couples under $150,000.
  • Federal unemployment benefits until September 6 at $300 per week with the first $10,200 of benefits for households earning under $150,000.
  • Extension of a 15 percent increase in food stamp benefits from June to September.
  • Rent aid for low-income households.
  • Increase in federal premium subsidies for Affordable Care Act policies.
  • Provision of $8.5 billion for rural hospitals and health care providers in financial trouble.
  • Child tax credit of $3,000 for each child ages 6-17 and $3,600 for each child under age 6.
  • Designation of $350 billion for states, cities, tribal governments, and U.S. territories.
  • Tens of billions of dollars for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and vaccine distribution and supply chains.
  • $130 billion for reopening schools.

Added provisions to the House bill:

  • $510 million for the FEMA Emergency Food and Shelter Program to support homeless services providers for overnight shelter, meals, one month’s rent and mortgage assistance, and one month’s utility payments.
  • Expansion of the Employee Retention Tax Credit for start-up companies and other businesses hit by the pandemic.
  • Increase in the federal COBRA health insurance program from 85 percent to 100 percent.
  • A $10 billion infrastructure program to help local governments continue crucial capital projects.
  • Coronavirus-related student loans tax-free.
  • Increase of $200 million for Amtrak relief funding.
  • Education funding of $1.25 billion for summer enrichment, $1.25 billion for after-school programs, and $3 billion for education technology

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) quickly corrected Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) complaining lies about undocumented immigrants receiving money from ARPA. Refusing to yield the floor back to Cruz, Durbin said:

“The statement of the senator from Texas is just plain false… In case you didn’t notice, they didn’t qualify in December when 92 of us voted for that measure, and they don’t qualify under the American Rescue Plan. Nothing has changed, and for you to stand up there and say the opposite is just to rile people up over something that’s not true.”

 Debunking other false claims:

Nothing for schools: As can be seen above, hundreds of billions of dollars are being sent to schools, helping them take CDC steps to safely return youth to schools. The amount is six times what Republicans offered in their version of a bill.

Only 9 percent for health care: The largest parts focus on the pandemic’s economic impact, related to health. At least seven percent is directly related to coronavirus and might be closer to ten percent, depending on the GOP definition of “the health care space,” including the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid. Items such as free lunches for students no physically in school are connected to the COVID crisis. Stimulus checks, government assistance, and unemployment benefits are necessary because of the pandemic. The $140 million originally designated the BART extension, outside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) district, brought bitter complaints, but that sum, 0.0007 of the bill’s amount, has been deleted. Only $30 million for transportation for systems suffering from fee revenue, remains. Airlines alone received $25 from Republicans in the CARES act.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) drew attention to herself with two graceless gestures during the vote for ARPA. One of eight Democrats voting against the hourly minimum wage of $15, she made a dramatic thumbs-down movement similar to that of former Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) when he voted against killing the Affordable Care Act. The difference was clear: Sinema voted against low-income people, and McCain supported them. Seven years ago, she tweeted:

“A full-time minimum-wage earner makes less than $16k a year. This one’s a no-brainer. Tell Congress to #RaiseTheWage!”

Sinema’s other action accompanying her rejection of raising the minimum wage brought up the supercilious remark “Let them eat cake” about 17th and 18th century European peasants living in poverty who had no bread about European peasants living in poverty. She brought a large chocolate cake into the Senate chamber supposedly for staffers forced to read the entire ARPA. The connection between the cake and her thumbs-down for the poor made poor optics for her. Sinema also wants to preserve the filibuster to keep Republicans in control. As an Arizona paper wrote, “Sinema is holding progress hostage.” Sinema complained that criticism about her flamboyant gesture was sexist.  

For the past two years, the Democratic House passed hundreds of important bills and sent them to the boneyard of the GOP Senate. People knew Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate majority leader for those two years, would ignore the bills, which he knew would expire when a new Congress was sworn in. One advantage of having those bills from the 116th Congress, however, is that the 117th Congress can re-pass them much more quickly. Under the “McGovern rule,” bills brought to the House floor by April 1 can skip over markups if the previous Congress passed them. Two major results of this “rule” are H.R. 1 to return democracy to voting through government and elections reform by 220 to 210 and and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act with a vote of 220 to 212. Although both bills have moved on to the Senate, the filibuster may hurt their progress.

The daily cases of COVID-19 and resulting deaths in the U.S. are dropping—58,228 infections and 1,515 deaths yesterday—but the number per capita for cases is above other industrialized nations for cases and still eleventh for deaths.

March 6, 2021

Biden’s Cabinet: Diversity to Guide the U.S.

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 12:12 AM
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The 50-50 political split of the Senate is limping through confirmations of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet members. Within the first 45 days, 13 confirmations for Cabinet and Cabinet-level positions leave another nine waiting in the wings with one withdrawal. To help guide the course of the United States, Biden appointed ten women and 13 men which include 11 people of color. Neera Tanden, an Indian-American, withdrew her name from nominee for Office of Management and Budget because of excessive criticisms from GOP senators about her “mean” and “shrill” tweets.  Hearings have been marked by an extremely high level of hypocrisy among GOP questioning and objections.

The nine Cabinet members confirmed since the beginning of February 2021:

Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation: The former presidential candidate’s confirmation vote was 86-13 for the first openly LGBTQ Cabinet member.

Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security: The department’s first Latino and immigrant leader was confirmed by the tight margin of 56-43 after extensive questioning from Republicans about his background. Calling Mayorkas an “ethically compromised partisan lawyer,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told his caucus to vote against Mayorkas who came to the U.S. with his Cuban refugee parents in 1960.

Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy: Former Michigan governor, Granholm garnered fewer than two-thirds of the Senate’s votes with a vote of 64-35. Her experience with the auto industry, especially the development of electric vehicles, made her a strong asset. Since taking her position, the new Energy Secretary found $40 billion, unused during DDT’s term, for loans to boost clean energy. Over $35 billion in loans from the 2009 stimulus funding was paid back by such companies as Tesla.

Denis McDonough, Secretary of Veterans Affairs:  With an 87-7 vote for his confirmation, GOP senators—Ted Cruz (TX), Rick Scott (FL), Tom Cotton (AR), Josh Hawley (MO), Bill Hagerty (TN), Roger Marshall (KS), and Joni Ernst (IA)—didn’t explain their negative votes.

Michael Cardona, Education Secretary: The vote of 64-33 was more supportive than for former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who needed VP Mike Pence to break a tie in her favor. Some Republicans opposed Biden’s “union-focused progressive policies.” Cardona will return oversight on for-profit higher education to the department and help with student debt.

Gina Raimondo, Commerce Secretary: The Rhode Island governor was confirmed by 84-15, but Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) delayed the vote with a procedural move. Her new department includes the Census Bureau, the Patent and Trademark Office, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The 2020 census report is over two months late because of last-minute changes by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). Raimondo faces ongoing court challenges regarding the delay of data including a request to order March 31 as the deadline.

Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture: In the 92-7 confirmation vote, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) joined six GOP senators against Vilsack’s appointment because of his corporate ties. Sanders said Vilsack would be “fine” on family farms, just not as strong as he wished. During his confirmation, Vilsack talked about the importance of solving climate change in these “different times.” Some issues he faces.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, UN Ambassador: The 78-20 confirmation vote came after GOP criticisms about a 2019 speech in which they claimed she downplayed China’s expansionist ambitions and investments in Africa. Thomas-Greenfield said she regretted speaking at the Chinese-funded Confucius Institute at Savannah State University as part of her commitment to encouraging Black students in foreign service careers.

Cecelia Rouse, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors: In the most successful confirmation thus far, with a vote of 95-4, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) broke his record of 12 straight “no” votes on Biden’s nominees to vote for Rouse. He still maintains the record, however, of the largest number of negative votes.  

Republicans are stalling on more confirmations, sometimes with their usual hypocritical complaints:

Xavier Becerra: The Senate Finance Committee failed to move Becerra for confirmation as Health and Human Services Secretary with a partisan tie. The 14 GOP naysayers have taken $36.1 million from the health industry, $9.6 million from large pharmaceutical companies. Becerra has taken on corrupt price gouging for drugs, and he promised to expand healthcare access and lower drug prices. The healthcare sector donations are here. Democrats can move him out of committee to a floor vote with “a motion to discharge his nomination and … an additional four hours of debate,” according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). GOP senators already delayed Becerra’s confirmation hearing, and HHS, vital to deal with vaccine distribution and other public health crises connected to the pandemic, has no permanent director.

GOP senators such as Ted Cruz (TX) and Richard Burr (NC) who complained about Becerra not being a doctor voted for DDT’s HHS Secretary Alex Azar, not-a-doctor. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) falsely accused Becerra of suing anti-abortion Catholic nuns when he sued DDT’s administration for its policy exempting employers from signing off on contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Merrick Garland: Sen. Tom Cotton, (R-AK) who faithfully voted for DDT’s attorney general nominees without answers to most questions, stalled Garland’s confirmation by claiming Garland refused “to answer entire basic questions” about immigration, death penalty, and guns. The hold requires another procedural step before a final confirmation vote, perhaps by next week. Garland was voted out of the Judiciary Committee, 15-7, with four GOP votes.

Deb Haaland: As the first Indigenous person nominated for Cabinet, the nominee for Interior Secretary was extensively questioned about her past support to end natural gas fracking and pipeline development. GOP senators complained about her tweet from last October, “Republicans don’t believe in science” and tried to use a study commissioned by the biggest oil and gas trade association against her with information about her position against federal leases. Despite misgivings, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) supported Haaland because of her support from Alaskan constituents, many of them Indigenous people. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) “apologized” for calling Haaland a “whack job,“ saying he was looking for another word before calling her “a neo-socialist, left-of-Lenin whack job.”

Marcia Fudge: The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs confirmed Marcia Fudge for HUD Secretary by 17-7 with five Republicans voting yes. No Senate action has been taken in almost a month since the vote. Republicans are upset because Fudge has criticized the GOP.

Michael Regan: The Environment and Public Works Committee approved Regan as administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency by 14-6. 

Katherine Tai: The Senate Finance Committee surprisingly moved Tai along for Secretary of Trade with a unanimous voice vote

Isabel Guzman, Small Business Administrator: She passed the committee by 15-5.

Attacks against nominated women of color come from both GOP senators and conservative groups, including one waging a multimillion-dollar ad campaign against Vanita Gupta. She and another civil rights leader Kristen Clarke, appointed for the DOJ, have been described as cop-hating, anti-Semitic reverse racists. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) found it “particularly troubling” that Merrick Garland defended the two women and called them “all about politics.” Both female nominees want laws enforced, unlike the DOJ under the previous administration. Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-UT) questions to Garland concerned only Gupta, who is supported by the country’s largest police union, and Clarke.

Democratic senator Joe Manchin (WV) joined the Republicans in opposing women of color, including his objections about Tanden’s tweets. Yet Manchin voted for DDT’s white males such as Ric Grenell, who ridiculed Newt Gingrich’s weight and asked whether Callista Gingrich’s “hair snaps on.” Grenell also said MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow looked like Justin Bieber and should “take a breath and put on a necklace.” Manchin voted for Ryan Zinke as Interior Secretary after he called Hillary Clinton the “antichrist.” Other Manchin votes were for Mike Pompeo (Secretary of State), who called then-Secretary of State John F. Kerry a “traitor” and “Vietnam’s worst import,” and Jeff Sessions (AG), who called the NAACP a “pinko organization” that “hates white people.”

Granholm, a white woman, was confirmed despite making caustic comments such as calling DDT “a swindler in chief.” Tanden did question possibly excessive compensation for Manchin’s daughter, CEO of EpiPen, after the product cost had a massive increase.

Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) transphobic statements toward the nominee for assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services caused the most disgusting performance in the Senate confirmation hearings thus far. When questioning Dr. Rachel Levine, a trans pediatrician who served as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Rand equated gender-affirming healthcare with “genital mutilation” and accused people seeking gender-affirming surgery because of “the social pressure to conform, to do what others do… as well as the need to be accepted socially and fear of being rejected by the community.” He then accused Levine of advocating “surgical destruction of a minor’s genitalia” before asking if she believes “minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex.”

Levine has maintained this treatment is not recommended for anyone under 18 years of age with “some exceptions.” She politely thanked Rand for his interest, saying that “transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed.” Rand could not drop the subject, however, saying a British woman who “read something about transsexuals” had “sex reassignment” surgery that she later regretted. Health, Education, and Labor Committee Chair Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) eventually shut him up and thanked Levine for her thoughtful answers, adding:

“It is really critical to me that our nominees be treated with respect and that our questions focus on their qualifications and the work ahead of us rather than on ideological and harmful misrepresentations like those we heard from Sen. Paul earlier.”

A tracker for 800 of the over 1,250 presidential political appointments requiring Senate confirmation. With the current Senate stalling, Biden’s 57 confirmations are far behind his four predecessors.

January 18, 2021

How Biden Can Overcome McConnell

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) Senate is on vacation, unlike four years ago when they were busy confirming the appointments of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). By his inauguration, McConnell had held Cabinet hearings on Jeff Sessions (DOJ attorney general), Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce), James Mattis (Department of Defense), Betsy DeVos (Secretary of Education), Rick Perry (Secretary of Energy), Tom Price (Secretary of Health & Human Services), John Kelly (Department of Homeland Security), Ben Carson (Secretary of Housing & Urban Development), Ryan Zinke (Secretary of Interior), Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State), Elaine Chao (Secretary of Transportation), and Steve Mnuchin (Secretary of Treasury.) Mattis and Kelly were confirmed on January 20, 2017—the day of DDT’s inauguration.  Only three Cabinet positions had no hearings by DDT’s inauguration, and one of them, Andrew Puzder withdrew his name in disgrace.

Hearings for only four President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet appointments may occur on January 19, 2021—Homeland Security, Defense, State, and Treasury—but McConnell can drag his feet for weeks in the confirmation process. DDT came into the Oval Office at a high time of economy and safety with foreign countries. Biden, however, is facing 4,000 U.S. deaths a day from COVID-19, and the HHS Secretary submitted his resignation for the day of the inauguration after having lied to the nation about the shortage of vaccine doses. Domestic terrorists threaten more attacks after an attempted coup on the Capitol, breaching the building and coming within a minute of finding VP Mike Pence, who insurgents promised to kill, but DHS is being run by an acting-acting DHS Secretary, moved up with the ninth position of FEMA. State Department Secretary Mike Pompeo is driving hatred toward the U.S. from the world’s countries just to cause trouble for Biden.

The Constitution does allow ways for Biden to move ahead even with McConnell’s obstruction. A document from the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force reveals 277 policies Biden can immediately invoke. Although Democrats opposed DDT’s broad interpretation of executive power with legal and political evasion, the ideas, however, provide food for thought.

Filling the Executive Branch Positions:

In a constitutional alternative for confirmations, a president can make a “recess appointment” if the Senate adjourns for ten days. Appointments could last until the end of the congressional session, in this case the end of 2022. Republicans blocked any adjournments to keep President Obama from making any recess appointments, but the adjournment clause in Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution has another option. Anticipating a “disagreement” between the House and the Senate about adjournment, the Constitution gives Biden the power to personally adjourn both chambers if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) cooperates, allowing Biden to appoint his Cabinet and the principal deputies on an acting basis until the Senate has a Democratic majority. Most of the other positions, lacking statutory authority or the ability to legalize policies, do not require confirmation.

According to Peter Shane, DDT’s practice of “acting” was to make “an administrative ‘delegation of authority’ from one agency official to a subordinate that allows the subordinate to do yet a third person’s job—to put officials in place who would presumably owe their political accountability solely to Trump and not to Congress.” Nowhere is the danger of this practice more obvious than at DHS: only two of the top dozen positions are filled by Senate-confirmed people. The remainder have an acting official or a senior official in a different post performing the duties of the vacant position. No president has ever followed this process of appointing a Cabinet, but no other person in the Oval Office has ever incited violence and been impeached twice.

 Reversing DDT’s Policies:

DDT’s loyalists are so embedded within the executive branch that getting rid of them will be a challenge, especially in the cases of DDT’s political appointees moving to senior civil service positions; i.e., Michael Ellis becoming top lawyer for the NSA just three days before Biden’s inauguration. But many of DDT’s recent regulation changes won’t be legally effective until after January 20, and Biden can direct administrative agencies to stop regulations not yet final and hold unpublished ones in abeyance. Those not yet effective can be postponed until consideration. With the addition of Georgia’s Democratic senators, the Senate can use the Congressional Review Act to void DDT’s regulations made as far back as last summer. 

The Congressional Review Act, used frequently by DDT’s GOP senators, applies whether a rule expands or rolls back regulations within 60 days of Senate session, going back to July, after a new rule is published. No filibusters are allowed, and debate is limited to ten hours. A disapproved rule cannot be reissued, and no rule can be issued in “substantially the same form” without additional authorization from Congress. The process could work for such recent DDT rules as requiring banks to make loans to firearms and oil industries and protecting industries other than electric utilities from climate change regulations. The law comes from Newt Gingrich’s deregulation “Contract with America.”

Another kind of executive order specifically authorized by statute and directly affect people’s legal rights or obligations includes DDT’s travel ban order. On his first day, Biden can issue an executive order repealing all DDT’s executive orders he considers bad policy.

Regulations ordering public behavior, called “substantive rules,” require a lengthy process—public comments, detailed explanation considering the comments, final publishing, and a wait for Congress to review the rule. These rules, such as DDT’s rollback of clean water protections or withdrawing safeguards of the Endangered Species Act, require a new substantive rule following the same process. Biden can find leeway by lightening or removing the requirement of regulatory cost-benefit analyses approval. With “good cause,” an agency can make a rule effective immediately after its publication. The agency is still required to follow the process, but the rule is binding before the process. An interim final rule can be carried out if an agency believes delay in revising DDT’s rule would be, according to the Administrative Procedure Act, “impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest,” it could consider an interim final rule.

Many of the DDT’s agency rules are not substantive because they don’t impose new legal obligations or remove existing ones. Most of them tend to be informative statements about priorities or interpretive ones to clarify exiting policies under statutes or other substantive rules. These “guidance” orders can be revised or repealed with no elaborate procedures.

Senate Majority:

With 100 percent of the votes counted from the January 5, 2021, runoff election for two U.S. Georgia senators, the majority of almost 4.5 million voters picked Democrats Jon Ossoff (2,269,738 votes, 50.62 percent) and Raphael Warnock (2,288,923 votes, 51.04 percent) over GOP incumbents David A. Perdue (2,214,506 votes, 49.38 percent) and Kelly Loeffler (2,195,373 votes, 48.96 percent). Because both Ossoff and Warnock won by over one percent, there will be no recount. Both Perdue and Loeffler conceded the election and don’t plan to contest it in court. All the counties have certified the votes, and the state must finish the process by January 22, 2021. Georgia now has its first Black and its first Jewish senators. The runoff was forced by no candidate receiving at least 50 percent in the general election, required by a 1963 law, common in Southern states, to block Blacks from winning any contests after the Supreme Court struck down its earlier discriminatory law. 

At the swearing in of the 117th Congress on January 3, the Senate had 51 Republicans, 46 Democrats and two independents who vote with Democrats. Perdue’s term ended on January 3, but Loeffler stays until she is replaced because she was appointed a year ago. If Georgia certifies the election on January 20, the new senators can be sworn in the next day—unless McConnell decides to balk. With a 50-50 split, VP Kamala Harris will break any ties. Harris resigned her senatorial seat January 18, and appointed former California Secretary of State Alex Padilla replaces her. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will trade places with McConnell after the new senators are sworn in to become the Majority Leader.

The history of a 50-50 Senate split goes back to 2001, when Trent Lott (R-MS) and Tom Daschle (SD) negotiated equal membership on committees, equal budgets for both parties on committees, and the right of either party leader to discharge bills or nominations from deadlocked committees. The two former senators wrote an op-ed about the difficulty of sharing power in a highly-polarized society and giving recommendations for the process. McConnell’s behavior during the past six years has created a huge partisan distrust from the Democrats. This shift in Senate control influences the upcoming impeachment trial after the House approved the charges against DDT of incitement of insurrection connected to the January 6 attempted coup at the Capitol.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) hasn’t yet said when she will send the article of impeachment passed by the House on January 13 to the Senate for its trial. Traditionally, all other business stops with an impeachment trial, but with Biden’s first 100 days plan, that process may be changed. Biden has asked for half days devoted to the trial proceedings with the remainder of the needs addressed in the rest of the time. A trial requires two-thirds of the Senators present for conviction. With everyone in attendance, the number is 67, but Republicans may wish to avoid making a decision about the impeachment and not show up for the trial.

Just 34 more hours until the inauguration.

December 24, 2020

DDT, GOP Leave Coal in Stockings

Today is the day before Christmas, and all the GOP members of Congress should be “nestled all snug in their beds; While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.” After all, all except one senator happily voted not to impeach/convict Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). The House Republicans unanimously voted against impeachment on December 18, 2019, and all 53 GOP senators exonerated him of abuse of power on February 2, 2020. Sen. Mitt Romney (UT) was the only Republican senator to vote in favor of convicting DDT for obstruction of Congress. Justifying their votes for not convicting DDT of these crimes, GOP senators proudly said he had “learned his lesson.”

Two days after the Senate vote, DDT fired witnesses Ambassador Gordon Sondland and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who had testified in the impeachment inquiry, along with Vindman’s twin brother Yevgeny, who had nothing to do with the impeachment. That retaliation began the downward spiral of DDT’s vicious behavior. By now, some of those supporters may have learned their lesson—that DDT will make life hell for anyone opposes him and anyone connected to his opposition.

Republicans are finally losing their temper openly after they faithfully followed White House orders on the stimulus/spending bill, and he—again—betrayed them. Never matter that 126 House members faithfully followed DDT down the rabbit hole by joining a seditious lawsuit in the Supreme Court to overturn a legal election for president, furthering polarizing a badly-divided, formerly democratic country. Angry messages from congressional members inundating White House aides claim, correctly, that DDT abandoned them after the White House told them it supported the bill and asked for their votes. DDT has repeatedly told they can’t trust him: one of his favorite statements, “You knew I was a snake when you took me in.”

House Democrats now support DDT, and the bill, by unanimously voting in favor of increasing the stimulus checks to $2,000, but House Republicans procedurally stymied the vote. One can imagine DDT grimly chortling on his Florida golf course about his latest chaos. Democrats support people while the GOP wants money and power. Republicans gave DDT everything he could have wanted to get their conservative judicial activists, including support for overturning the election in his favor and protection in concealing his finances. In return, they found coal in their stockings. Santa didn’t like Republicans this year, and DDT blocked them from “Merry Christmas!” Apparently, enabling and sycophantism didn’t pay off in 2020.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) was so disgusted with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) rejected the amendment that she banged the gavel, saying “Merry Christmas!” in a less than positive way. The House is adjourned until Monday afternoon for a floor vote on DDT’s request for $2,000 checks. Dingell’s statement after the adjournment:

“It is Christmas Eve, but it is not a silent night. All is not calm. For too many, nothing is bright. And for too many, they are not sleeping peacefully. I gave a town hall last night that had people crying, people terrified of what is going to happen… I’ve been talking to people who are scared they’re going to be kicked out from their homes during the Christmas holiday, and still might be if we don’t sign this bill.”

McCarthy tried to make Pelosi the scapegoat by attacking her in a letter for trying to “use the American people as leverage to make coronavirus relief contingent on government funding.” He also framed himself as protector of people in the U.S.:

“The top priority must be our families, communities, and small businesses as we get through this pandemic and restore our country.”

Yet he refuses DDT’s call for more direct payment which Pelosi supports and accused Democrats of “selective hearing” for not cutting the $2 billion in foreign aid DDT opposes. McCarthy plans a bill to cut that funding while not providing anything for people in the U.S. It’s “austerity” time for Republicans with President-elect Joe Biden in the White House.  

On CNN Sunday, Romney mourned the loss of the Republican party, how the GOP he knew even eight years ago when he ran for president is gone:

“I represent a very small slice of the Republican Party today. We were a party concerned about balancing the budget. We believed in trade with other nations. We were happy to play a leadership role on the world stage, because we felt that made us safer and more prosperous. And we believed that character was essential in the leaders that we chose. We have strayed from that. I don’t see us returning to that for a long time.”

Romney plans to stay a Republican, saying he wants to work within the party instead of from outside. Member of the anti-DDT Lincoln Project Kurt Bardella, however, explained why he changed his registration from GOP to Democrat:

“I appreciate where Romney is coming from, but there comes a point where an institution is so thoroughly broken it must be rebuilt someplace else. The party’s true platform has become a toxic combination of authoritarianism and white nationalism. Rebuilding the party will require dismantling it. And helping in that cause doesn’t mean becoming an Independent or agitating for a third party…

“At the start of the Trump presidency, anti-Trumpers who identified as Republicans stayed with the team hoping that their policy positions would still form the basis of a Republican agenda. That experiment is over.

“If you were a Republican because you believed in fiscal restraint, under Trump the debt and deficit have exploded. If you were a Republican because you believed the GOP was stronger on national and homeland security, just look at what Trump said this week in cynically downplaying Russia’s cyberattack against our country. If you are a Republican because you believe in law and order, examine the records of the corrupt people Trump just gave pardons and commutations to. If you are a Republican because you are pro-life, there are 324,000 Americans dead from COVID-19 to call into question the GOP’s commitment to the sanctity of life.”

By Christmas Eve, the number of people dying from the virus in the U.S. is 327,000, and an additional 100,000 people died in the U.S. during the first nine months of 2020. The leadership of the “pro-life” party made the U.S. the deadliest year in history, topping three million deaths. The over 400,00 mortality increase over 2019 is a percentage leap not seen since the 1918 flu epidemic and World War I deaths. The number of deaths fell in 2019 with reductions in heart disease and cancer fatalities, and life expectancy crept higher for the second straight year. In 2020, the increase in deaths will force life expectancy up to three full years lower.

DDT may have spent the day on the golf course, but he took time out to tweet threats of military conflict against Iran. Last weekend, a weekend rocket attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad injured one Iraqi but no Americans. DDT wrote:

“Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over.”

Iran denied perpetrating the attack and warned DDT against “dangerous adventurism.” DDT is running out of ways to overturn a legal presidential election—court cases, appeals for state legislatures taking over electoral votes, declaration of martial law for a new election, even “requests” for VP Mike Pence to overturn the election at the congressional joint session on January 6. DDT doesn’t understand Pence merely presides over the proceedings and doesn’t make the final decision. DDT’s next ploy may be to start a war using the warped belief people will be forced to leave him in the White House in the midst of a war.

Foreign policy analysts have cautioned for weeks about DDT attacking Iran to sabotage any diplomacy and return to the nuclear deal in the Biden administration. Last month, DDT checked on ways to bomb Iran’s primary nuclear energy site, and earlier this month, the U.S. flew two B-52 bombers over the Persian Gulf to threaten Iran.

Some new House GOP representatives, including QAnn members Laurie Boebert (CO) and Marjorie Greene (GA), want to bring their guns onto the House floor. Greene wants every place in the nation to be “gun free zones,” including visitors’ galleries in congressional chambers.

The media is suspicious about the photoshopping of DDT and Melania Trump’s last Christmas portrait. His expression is identical to the one of a series taken last year with the Prince of Wales, and a photo expert compared the image to a paper cutout. Is it possible the two can’t even get close enough for a joint photo op? No doubt, Melania finds the next 27 days waiting to leave the White House as difficult as people in the U.S. do. 

September 21, 2020

A View on RBG’s Replacement

“It’s Not Hypocrisy: Mitch McConnell’s Machinations Are Something Far More Degrading”—Lili Loofbourow, Slate  

I was watching the president of the United States suggest to a mostly maskless crowd that a Democratic congresswoman had married her brother when the news broke that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died. The shock of her death sledgehammered a country teetering on an ugly and desperate edge. It came in waves. It wasn’t merely the loss to the country, or the sadness that a champion of equal rights had died. Nor was it the fact that an increasingly corrupt Republican Party is very close to forcing through the judicial supermajority it needs in order to lock in minority rule and overturn American women’s right to reproductive choice. (You will no doubt hear often in the coming weeks that, of the five conservative Supreme Court justices, four were nominated by presidents who had lost the popular vote.) There was a flashback to the contempt and grief Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing aroused in so many appalled onlookers. And then there was the dread of realizing that a citizenry breaking—financially, politically, even cognitively—under five different kinds of instability was going to have to endure more. We have been in a bad way for a long time, but this is the hurricane on top of the wildfire that follows the earthquake.

What’s enraging is that we shouldn’t be here. We have institutions and norms and precedents, so what should happen next is almost absurdly plain. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made his thinking on the subject quite clear back in 2016, when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, nine months before the election. “The American people‎ should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” he said. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” There shouldn’t have been any mystery about what Mitch McConnell—of all people—would do when a Supreme Court vacancy opened up six weeks (rather than nine months) before Election Day of 2020.

And there wasn’t. Shortly after Ginsburg’s death was announced, McConnell declared his intentions: Trump’s nominee would receive a vote in the Senate, and though he left the timing slightly unclear, he has no intention of letting the will of the American people (who have already started voting) determine what should happen. He made quick work of the optimists on Twitter suggesting that he surely wouldn’t be so hellbent on total power that he’d risk destroying the country by breaking the precedent he himself had articulated. Wrong. He would. And anyone who took him at his word when he rejected Merrick Garland’s nomination was made a fool when he reversed himself on the question of whether (to quote the man himself) “the American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice.”

I want to pause here to note, humbly, that it is wounding to watch a public servant reduce those who take him at his word to fools. I mention that not because it “matters” in any sense McConnell would recognize but because it is simply true that this nation’s decline accelerates when the conventional wisdom becomes that believing what the Senate Majority Leader says is self-evidently foolish. The chestnut that politicians always lie is overstated—a society depends on some degree of mutual trust. One party has embraced nihilism, pilloried trust, and turned good faith into a sucker’s failing in a sucker’s game.

Many of us are coping with that lacerating redefinition by knowingly rolling our eyes. Ginsburg’s death hurts, but more than one strain of political grief is operative. This is why so many political reactions at present seem to orbit around the question of whether an unwanted outcome was unexpected. “And you’re surprised?” is a frequent response to some new instance of Trumpian corruption. This brand of cynicism has spread, quite understandably: It’s an outlook that provides some cognitive shelter in a situation that—having historically been at least somewhat rule-bound—has one side shredding the rules and cheering at how much they’re winning. Folks who at one point gave Republican declarations of principle the benefit of the doubt (I include myself) feel like chumps now. Conversely, the cynical prognosticators who used to seem crabbed and paranoid just keep getting proven right. Whatever the worst thing you imagine McConnell doing might be, he can usually trump it.

Just by way of example: A former White House official told the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer for a piece in April that McConnell reassured donors that he would install a Supreme Court justice for Trump regardless of how close to the election Ginsburg’s death might be. He apparently referred to the prospect of replacing Ginsburg in the event of her death as “our October surprise.” In 2019, McConnell gleefully tweeted a photo of some tombstones, one of which had Merrick Garland’s name on it—hours after a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, in which 23 people died. He has said that stopping Garland’s nomination is the proudest moment of his career. It’s uniquely painful that this is the person architecting Ginsburg’s replacement in violation of his own contemptible theories.

I am not saying anything new here. But what I am interested in, because I think it must be understood, and because the stakes of it have never been higher, is what McConnellizing does, affectively, to so many American citizens. What it feels like, in other words. We are overdue for a real reckoning with what it means to be degraded by our own leadership. And make no mistake: It is degrading when people lie to you openly and obviously. Leaving the polity aside for a moment, it’s the kind of emotion we humans aren’t great at coping with. Sometimes we react by snorting at anyone who expects any better (that is again the “you’re surprised?” cynicism). But if you can’t cover it with cynicism, it simply hurts.

Shall we experience being degraded together? Here is the justification McConnell offered shortly after Ginsburg died for violating his own rule:

In the last midterm election before Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame-duck president’s second term. We kept our promise. Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year.

This last sentence—which you will recognize as the heart of McConnell’s argument—is a lie. But before I supply the dull fact proving that it is a lie, I’d like us to pause and notice the extent to which whatever I am about to say will not factor into how you feel reading the above. Whatever I say, it will not provide you relief for me to demonstrate that this tortured reasoning McConnell supplied is horseshit. You are already meant to understand it as horseshit. That’s the insult. That’s where one part of what I guess we could call patriotic pain comes from.

OK, now for the dull facts: What McConnell says in that statement is not true. In 1988 (an election year!), the Democratically controlled Senate confirmed Anthony Kennedy—President Ronald Reagan’s nominee to the Supreme Court. McConnell tried to circumvent this reality by crafting his new rule to exclude any vacancy “that arose” in an election year (Lewis Powell retired in late 1987).

Does an exercise like this leave us anywhere? I think it might. I think we have a habit of misnaming political experiences in ways that help us metabolize loss. I think, for example, that we have a bad habit of calling McConnell’s double standard—which will be devastating to a country already struggling through various legitimacy crises—“hypocrisy.” And sure, step onto Twitter after Lindsey Graham also unabashedly went back on his own word and you’ll see many a person rolling their eyes at anyone pointing out that Republicans are hypocrites, as if it matters. One can sympathize with the eye-rollers—of course hypocrisy doesn’t matter. But that’s mostly because hypocrisy isn’t the word for what this is. Hypocrisy is a mild failing. It applies to parents smoking when they advise their kids not to for their own good; it does not apply to parents lighting the family home on fire for the insurance money while high-fiving each other over how stupid their fleeing children were for thinking anything they told them was true.

When Ginsburg died, those whose rights she championed were caught in a cruel double bind. Raging against the indecent replacement effort feels wrong, because raging before it happens can feel like implicitly conceding. Treating the matter dispassionately, on the other hand, sensibly pointing out that McConnell has stated clearly what should happen, means granting him a good-faith reading he does not deserve. Thanks to the swiftness with which he declared his intentions, we are no longer under any obligation to attempt the latter. All that remains is to let honest anger do what it must.

It will not help to call the leadership we have right now hypocrites; they will not care, and I doubt the charge will motivate the people who need to be motivated much. But insofar as our own reactions are concerned—and while we think about how to counter an obvious and ugly attempt to steal the Supreme Court seat of a feminist champion of equal rights even as Americans have already started voting—it may help to register the lies they tell you as the calculated insults to your intelligence and to your citizenship and to your country that they are. Fully witnessing and registering insults and degradation is more painful than sneering that you aren’t surprised. But I’ll be blunt: People are more willing to fight people who insult and degrade them than they are to fight mere “hypocrites.”

We deserve better than this. I confess I had no personal feelings about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing; my admiration and gratitude were purely professional and civic. But I found this quote—a response to Irin Carmon asking her how she’d like to be remembered—deeply moving: “Someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has.”

May 19, 2020

Sour Notes Continue from the $2.3 Trillion COVID-19 Bill

As I wait for my $1,200 check—not knowing whether I’ll ever get it because “Get My Payment” says I don’t exist–I follow what’s happening with the taxpayers’ $2.3 trillion assigned to rescue the country. (And yes, I fit all the eligibility requirements.)

Checks are being sent to people who have died, and now the government is sending two $500 payments for just one child. The parent claiming a child on the 2019 return should get the $500, but in the case of divorced, separated, or never-married parents who alternate claiming the child in different years, the parent claiming a child for 2020—who might not be the same one as 2019—might also receive $500. A check was also sent to a wealthy British woman who lives in London, as well as a double payment—one to the person who owed child support and another to the ex-spouse who filed an “injured spouse” claim.

These cases, however, are just the tip of the $2.3 trillion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that 83 percent of the money in that bill goes to the top one percent. 

A $500 billion Treasury Department fund from the Cares Act passed in March still hasn’t spent much money, according to the Congressional Oversight Commission. The group doesn’t have a chairperson because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) disagree on the choice. The remaining four members issued a 17-page report, primarily questions about the process of the Treasury fund disbursements. The Treasury Department has created only one lending facility of $37.5 billion to purchase corporate debt. The department did set aside $46 billion for the airline industry but hasn’t disbursed any money. Guidelines for the Main Street Lending Program intended to help small and medium-size businesses—up to 15,000 employees and $5 billion in revenue—have changed. Loans are bigger; companies don’t have to claim they need the money because of the current health crisis; and applicants only need to make “commercially reasonable efforts” to maintain payroll and retain employees.

None of the $150 billion for state and local governments in the Municipal Liquidity Facility has gone out, and the Treasury Department has no response about how it and the Federal Reserve will assess success or failure of this program and the Main Street Program. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) described the money as a “slush fund” for corporations. Democrats are skeptical of the nominee to oversee the $500 billion Treasury Fund because he won’t comment about DDT’s firing at least four inspector generals in fewer than two months or the part he played in the on-going purge. Brian Miller’s level of independence was also questioned because, as senior associate counsel at the Office of White House Counsel, he participated in protecting DDT during the impeachment trial.

Among the first 96 airline companies receiving taxpayer funds, owners of two private jet companies donated to DDT’s and GOP campaigns in 2016. Catering to well-to-do CEOs and executives, Omaha (NE)-based Jet Linx Aviation, whose owner gave $68,100 to DDT’s campaign, received $20 million. Clay Lacy Aviation in Van Nuys (CA), whose founder gave almost $50,000 to the RNC, got $27 million. The other private jet companies received about $110 million to share among 68 of them. United Airlines got $5 billion and then told employees to voluntarily leave the company while it cuts pay and organizes layoffs. Among workers moved to part-time are 15,000 airport employees. United asserts it is complying with the terms of the bailout to keep employees.

Friends with cruise line owners, DDT is adamant about protecting the companies.  To avoid paying U.S. taxes or following U.S. environmental and health regulations, cruise lines do not register as U.S. companies. The Fed, however, is offering them billions in loans. Carnival has promised to mitigate health issues, but the cruise industry avoids most U.S. regulations

Big oil is getting $1.9 billion in tax breaks designed for small businesses. Diamond Offshore Drilling, already headed into bankruptcy, received a $9.7 million tax refund and then asked a bankruptcy judge to authorize the same amount as bonuses to nine executives. Its tax refund was small compared to the $55 million for Antero Midstream, $41.2 million for Oil States International, $96 million for Devon Energy,  $110 million for Valero, $195 million for Oxy, and $411 million for Marathon. The oil industry was using its financial problems from before the health crisis to get generous subsidies. Three coal companies with ties to DDT are receiving $22 million.

In addition to $16 billion in direct subsidies for oil and gas, the industry is lobbying for another $100 billion in tax cuts—especially for Halliburton and ExxonMobil. The IRS Inspector General found that almost $1 billion in credits were fraudulently claimed so GOP senators demanded that the tax credit be expanded and made permanent in the next COVID-19 stimulus bill. The Interior Department is granting royalty relief by reducing or eliminating the share due to taxpayers for oil and gas extracted from public lands and waters.

The fossil fuel industry has been getting trillions, likely $20 billion or more a year for over a century. The cost of these subsidies could be as high as $649 billion a year. The Department of Education gets $68 billion, and the National Institutes of Health $42 billion for 2020. Oil and gas companies needed bailouts not because of the health crisis but because they took on massive debt to drill more wells, leaving a glut of oil. Their stock placed last in the S&P 500’s index for the last decade.  

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette admitted during a television appearance that the White House pushed the Federal Reserve to benefit fossil fuel companies by changing a lending program but that there was no encouragement to keep workers on the payroll. Bharat Ramamurti, a member of the Congressional Oversight Commission, has asked for an investigation after Brouillette said DDT personally told him and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to guarantee “access for these energy industries to those programs.”

A wealthy nonprofit think tank with a $115-million endowment and billionaire trustees, Aspen Institute, received $8 million in small business funds but decided to return it after negative publicity. The 72-person board includes Chairman James S. Crown, a member of one of America’s wealthiest families, and former Disney chairman Michael Eisner.

As the Federal Reserve gives out trillions of dollars in taxpayer money to large corporations, the recipients and amounts can be kept totally secret with no accountability. Terms, collateral, repayment, etc.—all these and more may never be revealed. Despite a 1976 law after Watergate that federal agencies’ meetings “be open to public observations,” closed-door meetings deliberating who and how much don’t need minutes until December 31, 2020. The record of votes can also be kept hidden during the COVID-19 crisis. Dispersing about $450 billion of the $500 billion bailout fund, the Federal Reserve can leverage that amount into $4.5 trillion.  Late last month, the Fed pumped $1 trillion a day into the banking system.

Small businesses—really small businesses with under 50 employees—are suffering around the country, but three-fourths of the 12,000 Catholic churches applying for money are thus far being given money from the stimulus law. Forty percent of Protestant churches applied for financial assistance and 59 percent of them also get funding. The bigger the church, the more likely it is to have applied. Among applications from Jewish organizations, 219 synagogues received over $50 million, and another 391 asking for $106 million are waiting for responses. Churches want money because their donations are down.

One goal of the Republicans is to use the COVID-19 crisis to cut Social Security benefits. Now that the huge corporations are getting trillions of dollars, Republicans are expressing concern about expenditures. One proposal, the Eagle Plan, pays individuals $10,000 in exchange for delays and/or cuts to Social Security benefits. The program is the brainchild of Jared Kushner and the State Department, odd because that agency isn’t in charge of domestic policy. DDT has said that he will not sign any future stimulus bill that doesn’t cut the payroll tax, money that pays for Social Security and Medicare.

Two months after the first COVID-19 relief bill went into law, it has been called insufficient, misguided, or both by a cross-section of lawmakers, economists, business groups, and labor advocates. One mistake was not paying companies directly to keep workers employed, a system used in some European countries. Instead, loans to companies went through the funnel of commercial lenders and were managed by the Small Business Administration. Black-owned businesses were disproportionately disadvantaged because tiny businesses with little credit and no relationship with lenders were bypassed for funding provided to firms with as many as 500 employees, also called a “small business.”

Banks didn’t receive guidance to prioritize rural businesses and those owned by veterans, women, and economically-disadvantaged people. The SBA didn’t provide a way to request this demographic information, but it did require that 75 percent of the money go to payroll although this was not part of the law.

Data shows that construction businesses, which didn’t stop during the crisis, got $45 billion more than any other sector. The second largest amount went to professional scientific and technical concerns whose lawyers, accountants, and financial planners worked from home. Publicly traded companies already doing poorly for decades did well in the bidding process.

As Republicans move forward with deregulation hidden under the health crisis, look for small bank failures as lawmakers and lobbyists push for the removal of financial safeguards. That will be the next need for bailouts.

May 19, 2020: 1,570,583 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (despite states concealing their numbers) in the U.S. with 93,533 deaths, and 37 states testing more than the U.S. based on numbers per million population.

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