Good morning! It’s Thursday, October 14, 2021. Election Day 2024 is 1,118 days away. Election Day 2022 is 390 days away.
What are the main sticking points in the Democratic spending talks?
Congressional Democrats had originally hoped to pass their two main legislative priorities — a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a solo spending package — by the end of September.
But two weeks into October, both pieces of legislation are pretty much in the same place they were then. The party’s new self-imposed deadline? October 31, when the short-term extension of highway funding passed last month is set to expire. (The bipartisan bill includes five years of funding for the federal highway fund.)
The new deadline also comes a day before a major United Nations climate summit will kick off in Glasgow; the White House was hoping to have the climate provisions in both bills passed before President Joe Biden travels to the summit, adding urgency to the end-of-October marker.
The first decision Democrats have to make is how large their spending package will be. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and fellow progressives had originally proposed a price tag of $6 trillion over 10 years, before being convinced by party leaders to shrink their sights to $3.5 trillion over 10 years.
But now centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are pushing for the package to shrink smaller still: Manchin has pegged his upper limit at $1.5 trillion. (Biden is reportedly encouraging both sides to compromise somewhere $1.9 trillion and $2.2 trillion.)
Once Democrats settle on a topline price tag, the next decision will be how to trim the package down. There are two main approaches being kicked around: either including most of the programs in the original $3.5 trillion proposal, but just implementing them for shorter amounts of time or for smaller pools of recipients; or stripping out certain programs so the ones that are left in can be implemented to their fullest extent.
“If there are fewer dollars to spend, there are choices to be made,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) lamented on Tuesday.
Pelosi has indicated that she’d prefer to “do fewer things well,” while progressives are pushing not to cut any of their policy priorities from the package — even if the scope of some must be limited. As always, Manchin and Sinema are the main linchpins: but they have kept their cards close to their chests, revealing little on what they would absolutely not abide in the package.
As negotiations reach a critical stage, Sinema is not even on the same continent as her colleagues: She’s currently on a fundraising trip to Europe during the congressional recess, per the New York Times.
But eventually, the time to make the final decision — what to cut? — will arrive. No matter which approach Democrats settle on, or when they finally come to the table, cuts will have to be made. So what could be on the chopping block? Here are the four main issues progressives and centrists are sparring about:
— Health care. The original Democratic proposal would expand Medicare to cover dental, vision, and hearing; expand Obamacare subsidies to help people pay for health insurance; and expand Medicaid in Republican-led states that have declined to do so. Pelosi has pushed for the package to focus on expanding Obamacare, while House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) has championed a focus on Medicaid and its low-income recipients.
Meanwhile, progressives have drawn a red line when it comes to adding dental, vision, and hearing to Medicare. “This to me is not negotiable,” Sanders told reporters Tuesday. “This is what the American people want.” Manchin, however, has called for lawmakers to “stabilize” the long-term solvency of Medicare before expanding its offering.
— Child and family care. Once again, the original Democratic package was stuffed with proposals: two years of free pre-K for all Americans, four more years of the enhanced Child Tax Credit, federal subsidies for daycare, and 12 weeks of paid family and sick leave for most workers.
And once again, Manchin is pushing his fellow Democrats to adjust their vision: according to Axios, he has told progressives that they need to pick just one of those programs to be included in the final package.
— Climate. Here are the main climate programs in the spending bill: clean energy tax credits; the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP), which would incentivize utilities to switch to clean energy; a tax on carbon dioxide pollution; a carbon border tax, which would tax imports from high-pollution countries; and a Civilian Climate Corps, which would employ young people to work on climate-friendly projects.
According to Politico Playbook, at least one of those five provisions is expected to be nixed from the final bill, with the CEPP the likeliest target due to Manchin’s opposition to the program.
— Prescription drugs. Finally, one of the centerpieces of the spending package for many Democrats is a provision that would allow Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices. The proposal serves a double purpose: it would lower drug costs for many Americans, but it is also one of the “pay-fors” Democrats were hoping to use to finance the package since it would save money for the federal government as well.
The only problem: Sinema is not on board. The Arizona maverick has made clear that she’s opposed to the prescription drug plan in its current form, a big source of frustration for Democrats who cite polling showing the proposal has broad bipartisan support across the country.
Policy Roundup: Legal
By Wake Up To Politics legal contributor Anna Salvatore.
The Supreme Court considered on Wednesday whether to reinstate the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokar Tsnarnaev. In July 2020, the First Circuit reversed Tsarnaev’s sentence because his jurors might not have been properly vetted during trial, and because the district court excluded potentially useful evidence about his older brother, Tamerlan. “A core promise of our criminal-justice system is that even the very worst among us deserves to be fairly tried and lawfully punished,” the court ruled.
In oral arguments at the Supreme Court, though, a majority of the justices seemed inclined to restore Tsarnaev’s death penalty. The division occurred along familiar ideological lines. Conservative-leaning Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh expressed doubt that the Tamerlan evidence would have made a difference, while liberal-leaning Justice Elena Kagan argued that it was critical to the defense.
In oral arguments on Tuesday, the justices also leaned towards allowing Kentucky’s Republican attorney general to defend a state abortion law in court. The justices did not focus on the constitutionality of the law, which bans a 2nd-trimester abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation; in fact, the word “abortion” was said only once in about 70 minutes. Instead, they considered the narrow question of whether Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron could intervene in the case after two federal courts had already ruled against the law and after a prior state official had declined to appeal.
There “isn’t much law” on late-stage interventions, said Justice Clarence Thomas. But after running through the complex procedural issues in this case, Justice Stephen Breyer asked, “Why can’t he just come in and defend the law?” Several of his colleagues seemed to share that sentiment.
Has the New York prison system created a “new death penalty”? According to a new report by the Columbia University Center for Justice, more people have died in New York prisons in the last decade than the state has executed in the last 300 years. “An increase in punitive sentencing, repeated parole denials, and keeping older people behind bars for longer has created a new death penalty and led to thousands of New Yorkers dying behind bars at an alarming rate,” the report said.
One proposed solution is the Elder Parole Bill, which would automatically grant parole hearings to people older than 55 if they have served 15 years in prison. Another proposal, the Fair and Timely Parole Bill, would change the focus of parole hearings, making them less about people’s original crimes and more about their rehabilitation while in prison. With new reports of hazardous conditions at Rikers Island, these prison reform bills may stand a chance of advancing in the New York legislature.
More legal headlines, via Anna:
- On Tuesday, Eliel Rosa became the 14th person to be sentenced for storming the Capitol on January 6th. “You participated in a shameful event, a national embarrassment that made us feel less safe, less confident this country can be ruled democratically rather than by mob rule,” said Judge Trevor McFadden.
- Did Facebook mislead investors about the emotional damage the platform causes to young people? The Securities and Exchange Commission might investigate, reports the Wall Street Journal.
- The New Yorker covered how undercover drug operations can lead to lengthy prison sentences for their targets.
All times Eastern.
President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 9:30 a.m. Later, at 10:30 a.m., he will receive a briefing from the White House COVID-19 Response Team on the pandemic and vaccinations. At 11:30 a.m., Biden will deliver remarks to update the nation on the COVID-19 response and vaccinations.
At 12:15 p.m., Biden will have lunch with the vice preisdent. At 2:15 p.m., Biden will hold a bilateral meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya.
Vice President Kamala Harris will join Biden for his COVID-19 briefing and for lunch. In addition, at 10 a.m., she will participate in a virtual town hall to discuss the “care provisions of the Build Back Better agenda and how they will benefit families and women.”
At 5:35 p.m., she and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will depart Washington, D.C., for Los Angeles, where they will remain through the weekend.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing at 1 p.m.
The Senate will briefly convene at 5 p.m. for a pro forma session, without conducting any business. The chamber has no votes scheduled until Monday, October 18.
The House has no votes scheduled until Tuesday, October 19.
The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol has instructed former Trump administration officials Steve Bannon and Kash Patel to appear for depositions today. It is unclear if they will cooperate.
The Supreme Court has no oral arguments or conferences scheduled today.
The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will meet at 8:30 a.m. to discuss Moderna’s application for an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for its COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.
The advisory committee meeting is generally the final step before the FDA decides whether or not to authorize a new shot; the agency almost always follows the committee’s recommendation.
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