9 min read

20 things the government did this week

A bill to lift 400K children out of poverty. A new push to reduce global lead exposure. Solar panels on the Pentagon. And more from this week in government.
20 things the government did this week
Illustration from DALL-E

Good morning! It’s Friday, January 19, 2023. Election Day is 291 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here.

Happy Friday from Washington, D.C., where the view out my window is blanketed with fresh snow. (Stay warm out there!) As I do every Friday, I want to kick off this morning with a rundown of what your leaders in Washington got done this week: the high-profile stuff and the quietly consequential bills and actions you might have missed.

In this week’s edition, we have a bipartisan bill that could lift 400,000 children out of poverty, a new push to reduce global lead exposure, solar panels on the Pentagon, and much more. As always, if you read this newsletter and find yourself learning things you didn’t know, I hope you’ll consider donating to support my work so I can continue to put out WUTP for free each week.

You can click here to donate, either on a one-time or monthly basis. Now, here’s a look at what the U.S. government did this week:

Executive Branch

1. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a proposed regulation that would sharply limit overdraft fees, charges levied by banks to customers who spend more than they have in their accounts. Per the CFPB, banks “typically charge $35 for an overdraft loan, even though the majority of consumers’ debit card overdrafts are for less than $26, and are repaid within three days.”

The new regulation — which would apply to the 175 largest banks in the U.S., those with more than $10 billion in assets — would steer overdraft fees as low as $3, saving American consumers more than $3.5 billion per year. It will now have go through the rest of the rulemaking process, meaning it would not go into effect until October 2025. (The regulation)

2. The Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a proposed rule that would require oil and gas companies to pay a fee for emitting methane. Methane is the second-most-abundant greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide; the International Energy Agency estimates that it is responsible for “around 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the industrial revolution.”

Under the EPA rule, which was greenlit by the Inflation Reduction Act of 2021, energy producers would be charged $900 for every ton of methane they emit above a certain level, in attempt to slash emissions. The fee would eventually jump to $1,500. When it takes effect later this year, it would be the first time the U.S. government has imposed a fee or tax on greenhouse gas emissions. (The regulation)

3. The Energy Department disbursed $104 million in grants to fund clean energy projects at 31 federal buildings, including the installation of solar panels at the Pentagon. The federal government is the nation’s largest consumer of energy; these projects are part of the Biden administration’s plan to reduce the government’s greenhouse gas emissions by 65% by 2030.

According to the Energy Department, in their first year, these projects will save taxpayers $29 million in energy and water costs, while removing the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as taking 23,042 gas-powered vehicles off the roads. The funds come from the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure package. (The grants)

4. The Education Department announced nearly $5 billion in new student loan debt cancellation for 74,000 borrowers, including 44,000 who qualified under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which forgives student loans for borrowers after 10 years of public service. The Biden administration has now canceled student loan debt for more than 3.7 million borrowers since taking office. (The cancellation)

5. The U.S. Agency for International Development announced a $4 million investment in reducing lead exposure in countries including India and South Africa. According to USAID, lead poisoning leads to 1.6 million deaths each year — more than malaria and HIV/AIDS combined. (The investment)

6. The State Department added the Houthis to the formal U.S. list of terrorist organizations. The Houthis are an Iranian-backed militia group who control about 80% of Yemen; since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, they have attacked more than 30 commercial ships in the Red Sea, threatening global trade.

Two weeks before leaving office, the Trump administration added the Houthis to both the “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” and “Foreign Terrorist Organization” lists. The Biden administration removed both designations in 2021. This week’s move puts them back on the former list, but not the latter, which carries with it more serious sanctions (and could have hampered humanitarian aid shipments to Yemen). (The designation)

7. The Justice Department released a 575-page report detailing the “cascading failures” of law enforcement in responding to the 2022 elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. According to the report, police waited 77 minutes between arriving on the scene and stopping the gunman, who by that time had killed 21 students and teachers. (The report)

8. The Department of Homeland Security sent a cease-and-desist letter to Texas, accusing the state of blocking its access to a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border where a woman and two children drowned last week. Texas has refused to comply with the letter. (The letter)

Legislative Branch

9. Both chambers of Congress passed a continuing resolution to avert a government shutdown. The measure will extend government funding through March 1 for some agencies, and through March 8 for the rest. It is the third stopgap funding bill lawmakers have passed since the 2024 fiscal year began in September. The measure passed 77-18 in the Senate and 314-108 in the House. (The CR)

10. The chairs of Congress’ two tax-writing committees inked a bipartisan deal to expand the Child Tax Credit and cut corporate taxes. According to the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the bill would benefit about 16 million children in its first year, while lifting around 400,000 children out of poverty. The measure also includes a housing provision that could lead to 200,000 new affordable rental units. (The deal)

11. The House unanimously passed a bipartisan bill to protect press freedom by prohibiting the government from compelling journalists to hand over their sources or notes, unless it is to prevent terrorism or imminent violence. The measure would also prohibit the government from compelling telecommunications companies to hand over a journalist’s communications. (The bill)

12. The House passed a resolution denouncing the Biden administration’s immigration agenda as “open-borders policies.” The measure passed 225-187, with 14 Democrats joining all Republicans in support. (The resolution)

13. The Senate voted 72-11 to reject an attempt by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to commission a State Department report on Israel’s human rights practices. Sanders forced the vote under Section 502B(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1976, which has not been successfully invoked since 1976. Sanders’ effort was backed only by 10 Democrats and one Republican. (The resolution)

14. The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill to require FBI agents to record their interviews with U.S. citizens in custody. Since 2014, it has been the Justice Department’s policy that their officers should record interviewing — but no law is in place requiring it, and FBI agents often rely on handwritten notes instead of recordings. The measure passed 22-1. (The bill)

15. The House unanimously passed a bipartisan bill that would allow children under 14 to receive new Social Security cards if theirs are lost or stolen. Currently, it is very difficult for families to obtain new cards for their children; this measure will remove several of the barriers involved. (The bill)

16. The House passed a bill to block the Biden administration from denying federal funds to crisis pregnancy centers, facilities which discourage patients from receiving abortions. The measure passed along party lines. (The bill)

17. Also along party lines, the House passed a bill to help pregnant college students, requiring that universities advise pregnant students of their rights to modified class schedules and absences for medical appointments. (The bill)

18. The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced 20 Biden judicial nominees, including Adeel Mangi, who would be the first Muslim federal appeals court judge. At his confirmation hearing, Mangi faced questions from Republicans over his ties to a Rutgers think tank that has hosted events that appeared to downplay the 9/11 and October 7th attacks. Democrats have called the questions Islamaphobic. He was approved by the panel along party lines. (The nominees)

Judicial Branch

19. The Supreme Court didn’t release any opinions this week, but the justices did decline to hear several cases. In one case, the justices opted not to intervene in an Indiana bathroom dispute, letting a transgender student’s victory in a lower court stand. (The case)

20. The court also declined to intervene in an antitrust suit brought by Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, against Apple, letting Apple’s win in a lower court stand. (The case)

More news to know.

President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu in happier times. (State Department)

Around the world: President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly haven’t spoken in three weeks as their visions for post-war Gaza diverge. Netanyahu said Thursday that he has told the U.S. that he is opposed to the establishment of any Palestinian state after the Israel-Hamas war. Per NBC News, U.S. officials are trying to craft a deal that would ink a Saudi-Israel peace treaty in exchange for Israel accepting a path to Palestinian self-governance in Gaza.

  • More: “Washington to Israel: Turn the lights back on in Gaza” (Politico)... “US military launches another barrage of missiles against Houthi sites in Yemen” (AP)

In the courts: Donald Trump posted on Truth Social that presidents should have “complete and total” immunity from prosecution, even if they “cross the line” while in office. Trump is trying to dismiss the January 6th indictment against him on these grounds; a panel of federal judges is soon expected to issue a ruling responding to his claim.

On the Hill: Hunter Biden, the president’s son, has agreed to sit for a closed-door deposition with two House committees next month, after Republican lawmakers threatened to hold him in contempt when he initially said he would ignore their subpoena.

On the trail: No Labels, the non-partisan group that may stage a third-party presidential campaign in 2024, is alleging that Democratic and Republican strategists are engaging in an “unlawful conspiracy to subvert Americans' voting rights.”

  • More: “Trump and Haley battle for Tim Scott endorsement” (Axios)

In the cities: Scott Stringer, the former New York City comptroller whose 2021 mayoral bid was derailed by allegations of sexual misconduct, is gearing up for a primary challenge against NYC Mayor Eric Adams. Adams, a Democrat, has faced criticism for his handling of the migrant crisis and proposed budget cuts; he also faces a federal investigation into his ties to Turkey.

The day ahead.

At the White House: President Biden will deliver remarks to bipartisan mayors attending the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Vice President Harris has nothing on her public schedule.

On the Hill: With a government shutdown averted, the House and Senate are out for the weekend. The House Ways and Means Committee will mark up the bipartisan tax deal.

In the courts: The justices will meet for their weekly conferences to discuss pending cases and petitions.

On the trail: Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, and Ron DeSantis are all in New Hampshire. Haley will hold five events, DeSantis will hold three, and Trump will hold one — a rally with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), amid speculation that she could be his VP pick if he wins the nomination.

Before I go...

In the process of writing this newsletter, I read a lot of news articles each day. Some of them make their way into Wake Up To Politics. Most don’t. Here are four pieces I read this week that don’t necessarily offer breaking news — but which taught me something I didn’t know about American politics or government:

Politico: Did a Young Democratic Activist in 1968 Pave the Way for Donald Trump?

  • Big idea: Now 81 and seeing how his prized reforms have empowered America’s extremes, the young ’60s activist who helped remake the presidential primary process is flirting with nostalgia for the age of smoke-filled rooms.

New York Times: A Reporter’s Journey Into How the U.S. Funded the Bomb

  • Big idea: Congress voted to fund the Manhattan Project — which built the atomic bomb — without holding any debate or discussion. “Only seven lawmakers in the entire Congress had any idea that they were approving $800 million — the equivalent of $13.6 billion today — to create a weapon of mass destruction that would soon kill and maim more than 200,000 people, ushering in the atomic age.”

Politico: The ‘Sleeping Giant’ Case that Could Upend Jack Smith’s Prosecution of Trump

  • Big idea: The Justice Department has charged more than 300 people tied to January 6th — including Donald Trump — with “obstruction of an official proceeding,” a crime that stems from the SOX Act, a 2002 law originally intended to curb financial crimes after the Enron scandal. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case challenging the DOJ’s expansive reading of the law.

CNN: Neil Gorsuch has a grudge against federal agencies. He holds their fate in his hands.

  • Big idea: The Chevron doctrine, the major Supreme Court precedent on regulatory power that the justices considered overturning this week, stems from a challenge to a policy set while Anne Gorsuch (mother of Justice Neil Gorsuch) was the EPA administrator.

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— Gabe