Four things the government did this week
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As always, I’m leading off Friday’s newsletter with a look back at what the U.S government did this week — to give you a sense of the progress actually being made in Washington.
I also wanted to share this update: The Honoring our PACT Act is a bipartisan bill I followed through the legislative process in these Friday newsletters. As you may recall, the measure expands health care benefits for veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during their military service.
The Department of Veterans Affairs announced this week that nearly 113,000 veterans have already filed disability claims under the law since it was signed three months ago. I thought that was an interesting update to give you a sense of the impact that the pieces of legislation I talk about here can have.
A guide to what got done in Washington this week
Once again, Congress was on recess this week, so there are only actions from the Executive Branch to report:
1️⃣ Cracking down on “junk fees”
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued new guidance as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to combat “junk fees,” exploitative charges that can take consumers by surprise.
Two types of fees charged by banks are targeted by the new guidance: overdraft fees charged to someone whose online account incorrectly shows a positive balance at the time of a transaction, and fees charged to people who deposit checks that bounce.
The CFPB argued that both types of fees are unfair because the consumer can’t know to expect them; in the latter case, for example, the person who writes the bad check is not charged but the person who unknowingly deposits it is.
Under the new guidance, the CFPB will treat the fees as illegal under the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, criticized the agency for choosing to “sidestep the congressionally mandated rulemaking process” and making the changes through guidance instead of a formal regulation.
According to the White House, the two types of fees accounted for an estimated $15.5 billion in revenue for U.S. banks in 2019; the CFPB estimated that Americans will save $3 billion a year from the new changes.
2️⃣ Signing an international climate treaty
After its bipartisan Senate ratification by a 69-27 vote last month, President Biden formally signed the Kigali Amendment on Thursday.
The Kigali Amendment — the first climate treaty to be approved by Congress in 30 years — is an addition to another international climate accord, the Montreal Protocol of 1987.
The amendment commits the U.S. and 139 other ratifying countries to each curbing their use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by 85% over the next 15 years. HFCs are greenhouse gases often found in refrigerators and air conditioners; they are a key contributor to climate change, trapping 1,000 times more heat than carbon dioxide.
Scientists estimate that adoption of the amendment could avoid up to 0.5°C of global warming by 2100, making it a sizable step towards combatting climate change. Some conservatives, including the Heritage Foundation, have argued that the treaty will lead to Americans facing price increases for refrigerators and AC units.
3️⃣ Brokering a deal with Israel and Lebanon
Israel and Lebanon finalized an agreement — brokered by the U.S. — that resolves a years-long maritime border dispute between the two countries.
Under the deal, the countries agreed on how to demarcate their borders in a 330-square-mile area of the Mediterranean Sea that had long been contested. The area includes two lucrative offshore gas fields; the agreement gave one to Israel and the other to Lebanon (with Israel earning 17% of the profits from the latter).
Because the two countries technically remain at war, there was no joint signing ceremony; Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid signed in Jerusalem, while Lebanese president Michel Aoun signed in Baadba, accompanied by Biden administration official Amos Hochstein, who mediated the accord.
4️⃣ Announcing new nursing home standards
Nursing home safety became a key issue during the Covid pandemic, when facilities across the country were accused of neglecting their residents.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services responded with a new plan to crack down on the nation’s poorest-performing nursing homes. The new changes concern the Special Focus Facility program, which addresses nursing homes that have been repeatedly found to have deficiencies during inspections. 88 nursing homes are currently in the program.
Under the new guidelines, any nursing home in the program that is cited with “Immediate Jeopardy deficiencies” — the kind that puts residents at risk of immediate harm — will lose Medicare and Medicaid funding.
The CMS also increased the requirements for successful completion of the SFF program and extended the period that facilities will be monitored after completing the program.
Although several experts praised the move, the American Health Care Association — the nation’s leading nursing home lobby — said the changes would be ineffective and called them “degrading” to nursing home staff members who “risked their lives serving on the front lines during this pandemic”
And a few more...
- The Justice Department formally barred prosecutors from using subpoenas to seize journalists’ records during leak investigations.
- The Environmental Protection Agency announced nearly $1 billion in grants for school districts across the country to purchase clean energy school buses.
- The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on 14 Iranian officials involved in the brutal crackdown on recent protests in the country.
🚨 More news you should know
➞ Breaking: An assailant broke into the San Francisco home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this morning and attacked her husband Paul. The attacker is in custody, while Paul Pelosi is in the hospital and expected to make a full recovery.
➞ Midterms: Earlier this month, I wrote about the rapid — and unusual — swings in the midterm elections this year, making for a confusing and uncertain election cycle. That trend continues into the final weeks of the campaign, as several races have been upended by “October surprises,” from Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman’s debate struggles to new allegations that Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker paid for a second woman’s abortion.
- A true tossup: As a result, “political prognosticators find themselves at a loss trying to predict what’s going to happen” in the race for the Senate, per the Washington Post, as polling averages show no less than seven races within the margin of error.
- Schumer’s view: A hot mic caught Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) bringing President Biden up to speed on the race for the Senate on Thursday. Schumer said the Georgia contest is “going downhill” for Democrats, while he believes the party is “picking up steam” in Nevada.
Technology: Elon Musk is now officially the owner of Twitter. In his first hours as “Chief Twit,” as he has called himself, Musk ousted the company’s CEO and other top executives. Per Bloomberg, Musk plans to serve as the Twitter CEO himself; he also intends to lift all lifetime bans on users, which could pave the way for former President Trump’s return to the platform.
And a few more headlines:
- NBC: “Federal appeals court denies Trump effort to keep tax records from House committee”
- AP: “Biden’s top aide is admonished for violating the Hatch Act”
- Axios: “Liz Cheney endorses Democrat Elissa Slotkin in Michigan House race”
- CBS: “Secret Service officials to testify before House Jan. 6 committee, sources say”
- NYT: “How Mike Lindell’s Pillow Business Propels the Election Denial Movement”
- WaPo: “Inside the Dems’ elaborate attempt to woo TikTok influencers”
🗓 What your leaders are doing today
All times Eastern. Click on an event’s time to watch or listen to it.
President Biden and Vice President Harris will headline a fundraiser in Philadelphia for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party (7 pm).
- More details: The event, which will be attended by both Senate candidate John Fetterman and gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro, is expected to net $1 million for the state party. Per The Hill, it will be the first time since January that Biden and Harris have appeared together at an event outside of D.C.
The House and Senate are not in session.
The Supreme Court will meet for its weekly conference.
Former President Barack Obama will hold his first major campaign event of the 2022 cycle, headlining a rally in Atlanta with Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock and gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams (5:30 pm).
In the Colorado Senate race, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican challenger Joe O’Dea will meet for their final debate (9 pm).
If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email me: my inbox is always open.
Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.