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Democrats Block Stimulus Bill, Republicans Self-Quarantine

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  • Senate Republicans failed to pass a $1.8 trillion stimulus package after Democrats blocked the bill from moving forward in two separate procedural votes.
  • The Democrats argue that the legislation would give too little to everyday people and hospitals and too much to corporations and businesses without oversight or worker protections.
  • Five Republicans were forced to abstain from voting as they continue to self-quarantine after exposure to the coronavirus, including Sen. Rand Paul, who tested positive Sunday.

Stimulus Package

The Senate failed to pass a $1.8 trillion stimulus package Monday after Democrats voted unanimously to block the bill for the second time in the last 24 hours.

Senators voted 49-46, far below the 60 votes needed to move forward with the bill, which is intended to help prop up the economy as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The stimulus package, which would be one of the largest in U.S. history, has been the subject of much partisan debate over the last few days.

While Republicans say it is essential to help the economy and working people, Democrats oppose the legislation because they believe that it does too much to help businesses and not enough for everyday Americans and hospitals.

The bill would provide about $250 billion for direct payments to households consisting of about $1,200 for each adult and $500 for each child. Those payments would phase out for people with incomes over $75,000.

The package also includes around $100 billion for hospitals and about $250 billion to help state unemployment insurance programs.

By contrast, the legislation would also create a $500 billion loan program for businesses, cities, and states while giving another $350 billion to small businesses.

In addition to arguing that the bill is too business-centric, Democrats also object to the lack of oversight.

Especially for the $500 billion lending program, which some Democrats are calling it a “slush fund,” because it would give the Treasury Department huge discretion to choose which firms get the money.

According to reports, some Democrats have alleged that the legislation would essentially give the department the sway to direct funds to companies that have appealed to the White House.

Democrats have additionally expressed concern that the bill does not have enough restrictions for companies that will receive that aid, specifically when it comes to worker protections.

They believe that without specific worker protections or any kind of oversight built into the legislation, companies who get the money could just fire their employees and pocket the taxpayer assistance.

President Donald Trump appeared to address the Democrats’ concerns on Sunday. Speaking to reporters, Trump said that he did not support corporate bailouts and wanted to help workers. But when asked if his businesses would seek government assistance if eligible, he would not rule out the possibility.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I just don’t know what the government assistance would be for what I have. I have hotels. Everybody knew I had hotels when I got elected. They knew I was a successful person when I got elected, so it’s one of those things.” 

Republicans in Quarantine

Efforts by Republicans and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) were further complicated by the fact that five Republican senators are in self-quarantine and unable to vote.

On Sunday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) confirmed that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Paul, who is the first senator to contract the virus, was the only member of the chamber to vote against a bipartisan deal to provide $8 billion in emergency coronavirus funding earlier this month.

Following Paul’s announcement, Republican Senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee of Utah said that they would be self-quarantining after extensive exposure to Paul, though both said they had not exhibited symptoms at the time. 

Meanwhile, two other Republican senators— Cory Gardner of Colorado and Rick Scott of Florida— also separately quarantined themselves last week after being exposed to people who tested positive.

All five senators were unable to vote for the package on both Sunday and Monday. 

See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Washington Post) (NPR)

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Judges Uphold North Carolina’s Congressional Map in Major GOP Win

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The judges agreed that the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” but said they did not have the power to intervene in legislative matters.


New Maps Upheld

A three-judge panel in North Carolina upheld the state’s new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, deciding it did not have the power to respond to arguments that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered it to benefit them.

Voting rights groups and Democrats sued over the new maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican legislature following the 2020 census.

The maps left Democrats with just three of North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats in a battleground state that is more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, Democrats held five of the 13 districts the state had before the last census, during which North Carolina was allocated an additional seat.

The challengers argued that the blatantly partisan maps had been drawn in a way that went against longstanding rules, violated the state’s Constitution, and intentionally disenfranchised Black voters.

In their unanimous ruling, the panel — composed of one Democrat and two Republicans — agreed that both the legislative and congressional maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”

The judges added that they had “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.”

Despite their beliefs, the panel said they did not have a legal basis for intervening in political matters and constraining the legislature. They additionally ruled that the challengers did not prove their claims that the maps were discriminatory based on race.

Notably, the judges also stated that partisan gerrymandering does not actually violate the state’s Constitution. 

The Path Ahead

While the decision marks a setback to the plaintiffs, the groups have already said they will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court has a slim Democratic majority and has already signaled they may be open to tossing the map.

There are also past precedents for voting maps to be thrown out in North Carolina. The state has an extensive history of legal battles over gerrymandering, and Republican leaders have been forced to redraw maps twice in recent years.

A forthcoming decision is highly anticipated, as North Carolina’s congressional map could play a major role in the control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they are as close as expected. 

See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Biden Administration Says Private Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Tests a Month

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The policy will apply to all the nearly 150 million Americans who have private insurance.


New At-Home Testing Policy

The Biden administration announced Monday that private health insurers will now be required to pay for up to eight at-home rapid tests per plan member each month.

Under the new policy, starting Saturday, private insurance holders will be able to purchase any at-home test approved by the FDA at a pharmacy or online. They will either not be asked to pay any upfront costs or be reimbursed for their purchase through their provider.

The move is expected to significantly expand access to rapid tests that other countries have been distributing to their citizens free of charge for months. 

According to reports, nearly 150 million Americans — about 45% of the population — have private insurance. 

Each dependent enrolled on the primary insurance holder’s account is counted as a member. That means a family of four enrolled on a single plan would be eligible for 32 free at-home rapid tests a month.

Potential Exemptions

All tests may not be fully covered depending on where they are purchased. 

In order to help offset costs, the Biden administration is incentivizing insurance providers to establish a network of “preferred” pharmacies and stores where people in the plan can get tests without paying out of pocket.

As a result, health plans that do create those networks will only be required to reimburse up to $12 per test if they are purchased out of that network, meaning people could be on the hook for the rest of the cost.

If an insurer does not set up a preferred network, they will have to cover all at-home tests in full regardless of the place of purchase.

During a briefing Monday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said tests should be “out the door in the coming weeks.”

“The contracts [for testing companies] are structured in a way to require that significant amounts are delivered on an aggressive timeline, the first of which should be arriving early next week,” she added.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Biden Administration Unveils Plan To Replace All Lead Pipes

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The effort builds on the $15 billion allocated under the bipartisan infrastructure bill for lead pipe replacement, but industry leaders say $60 billion will be needed for nationwide revitalization.


White House Outlines Actions on Lead Pipes and Paint

The Biden administration rolled out a sweeping plan on Thursday to remove all the nation’s lead pipes over the next decade and take other steps to prevent lead paint contamination.

Lead, which was commonly used in piping for municipal water systems all over the country until it was banned in 1978, is a dangerous neurotoxin that can cause serious nervous system damage, especially in children.

Contamination from lead pipes seeping into water supplies has caused multiple high-profile public health and environmental catastrophes over the last decade, including the notorious crisis in Flint, Michigan.

According to a White House factsheet, an estimated 10 million households are connected to water through lead pipes. Children and teenagers in 400,000 schools and child care facilities also risk exposure to lead-contaminated water.

“Because of inequitable infrastructure development and disinvestment, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to these risks,” the factsheet stated.

To address those disparities and revitalize water systems across the nation, the White House outlined 15 new action items the Biden administration is taking, including:

  • Launching “a new regulatory process to protect communities from lead in drinking water” through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • Clarifying that state, local, and Tribal governments can use the $350 billion aid allocated under the American Rescue Plan to replace lead service lines.
  • Establishing federally-operated regional technical assistance hubs “to fast track lead service line removal projects in partnership with labor unions and local water agencies.”
  • Awarding federal grants through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to remove lead paint in low-income communities.
  • Directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand childhood lead testing.
  • Establishing “a new Cabinet Level Partnership for Lead Remediation in Schools and Child Care Centers.”

The White House also said it will direct the EPA to allocate $3 billion for state, local, and Tribal governments to replace lead pipes through funding that was approved under the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden last month.

A Matter of Funding

In total, Congress provided $15 billion to revitalize the nation’s lead-pipe systems under the infrastructure bill. 

However, industry experts have estimated that it will cost $60 billion to entirely overhaul all the remaining lead pipes in the U.S.

As a result, the Biden administration has proposed several additional funding mechanisms in the social safety net package, known as the Build Back Better Act, that is currently being negotiated by Congress.

Specifically, the legislation would set aside $9 billion for lead remediation grants to disadvantaged communities, $1 billion for rural water utilities to remove lead pipes, and $5 billion for mitigation efforts such as removing lead-based water fixtures in low-income households.

The Build Back Better Act would additionally provide $65 billion for public housing agencies and $5 billion for other federally-assisted housing organizations to improve housing quality, including by replacing lead pipes and service lines.

The status of that legislation, as well as what provisions will remain in the final version, remain in limbo. While Democratic leadership has pushed to pass the sweeping social bill before the new year, all 50 of the party’s members in the Senate will need to sign on, and moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) has continued to withhold his support.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Axios) (The Washington Post)

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