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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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House Passes Landmark Elections Bill To Expand Voting Rights

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  • House Democrats passed the For the People Act on Wednesday, a broad voting rights bill that aims to enhance voting rights.
  • Among other measures, the legislation would mandate automatic voter registration, expand early and mail-in voting, restore voting rights to former felons, and impose new disclosure requirements for campaign donations and political advertising.
  • Democrats say the act is necessary to ensure American’s right to vote, especially as state legislatures have proposed dozens of bills that would roll back voting access and consolidate GOP power.
  • Republicans have argued that states, not the federal government, should decide how elections are run and claimed the new bill would lead to fraud that helps liberal candidates. 

House Approves For the People Act

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a sweeping elections bill Wednesday that aims to significantly expand federal voting rights all over the country.

The bill, called the For the People Act, was proposed by Democrats and passed 220 to 210 almost entirely along party lines. According to reports, if signed into law, it would be the most comprehensive enhancement of federal protections since the 1960s.

The bill contains a wide variety of provisions, but the most significant fall into two broader categories: creating uniform standards for voting and increasing financial transparency.

Regarding the voting rights standards, among other things, the bill would:

  • Weaken restrictive state voter ID laws.
  • Mandate that state governments use existing records to automatically register voters.
  • Guarantee no-excuse mail voting and at least 15 days of early voting for all federal elections.
  • Make it harder to purge voter rolls.
  • Restore voting rights to former felons.
  • End partisan gerrymandering by requiring states to appoint independent commissions to draw congressional districts.

As for what the bill aims to do regarding expanding transparency, it would:

  • Impose new disclosure requirements for “dark money” donations used to finance campaigns.
  • Create a public financing option for congressional campaigns.
  • Require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.
  • Require tech platforms to disclose political advertising information.

Arguments For And Against

Democrats have argued that this legislation is essential to protecting and ensuring the right to vote. 

The task, they say, is especially important now because Republican-controlled state legislatures have proposed dozens of bills that would roll back voting access as a reaction to former President Donald Trump’s loss and efforts to undermine the election. Many Republicans have used Trump’s false claims about voter fraud to promote their legislation.

Democrats have said these bills are a very transparent attempt by Republicans to consolidate their power because they know they benefit from lower voter turnout, and thus their strategy to win more races is just simply to make voting harder. As a result, Democrats have said the For the People Act is key to combatting these bills

“Everything is at stake,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) said Wednesday. “We must win this race, this fight.”

Republicans, for their part, have argued that states, not the federal government, should make changes to how elections are run, and that the legislation would lead to fraud that benefits Democrats. 

“House Democrats do not get to take their razor-thin majority — which voters just shrunk — and use it to steamroll states and localities to try and prevent themselves from losing even more seats next time,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in response to the bill’s passage.

However, many have disputed that claim by noting that there is no evidence of widespread fraud that helped Democrats in the last election. By contrast, there are years of evidence that Republicans do benefit from making it harder for people to vote and gerrymandering districts, a fact that McConnell himself seemed to acknowledge by implying that Democrats win more when voting rights are expanded.

Despite Republican objections, recent polls have found that most Americans support having more voter protections. According to a January survey by Data for Progress, 67% of Americans back the For the People Act, including a majority of Republicans.

Still, the legislation is all but doomed in the Senate, which struck down an almost identical version passed by the House in 2019. While Democrats technically have a majority now, the current 50-50 split will require a minimum of 10 Republicans to join forces with all 50 Democrats to avoid the 60-vote legislative filibuster.

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

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Texas Governor Will Reopen State “100%” and End Mask Mandate Against Expert Advice

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  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Tuesday that he was opening the state “100%” and ending the mask mandate starting March 10, against health guidance from federal officials.
  • Abbott justified his decision by noting that nearly 6 million Texans have been vaccinated and hospitalizations are down in the state.
  • Experts, however, pointed out that less than 2 million of the state’s 29 million residents are fully inoculated, and the CDC currently ranks Texas 48th for vaccination rates out of all 50 states.
  • On Tuesday alone, governors in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Michigan as well as local leaders in Chicago and San Francisco also announced plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions.

Abbott Announces Major COVID Policy Changes

Starting March 10, Texas will no longer have a state-wide mask mandate or any coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses and facilities, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Tuesday.

The move represents the most expansive reopening of any state and makes Texas the largest state to lift its public masking requirement. However, it also goes entirely against the recommendation of the nation’s top experts.

During a press conference Monday, Rochelle Walensky, the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned leaders against rolling back restrictions. She cited the fact that the recent nation-wide decline in cases has been stalling and that there has been community spread of the new variants  — three of which have been found in Texas, saying:

“With these new statistics, I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19,” she said.

“Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained. These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress,” she continued.

“Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of covid-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.” 

Conditions in Texas

While cases have been declining in Texas, like most of the country, there is still a lot of data that makes Abbott’s decision especially concerning.

According to The New York Times tracker, Texas still ranks within the top ten states with the highest weekly cases per capita, reporting a weekly average of just over 7,200. Texas also has more hot-spot counties than any other state, according to Business Insider’s analysis of the Times data, which found that 10 counties have reported more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents on average over the last week. 

Notably, that number could be skewed because of the massive drop in the testing due to a recent storm that left millions without power and clean water. In fact, experts have warned that Texas could see more COVID cases in the fallout of the storm because people were forced to shelter together.

Abbott, however, did not focus on any of that in his announcement. Instead, he cited other metrics, noting that nearly 5.7 Texans have been vaccinated. He also pointed to declines in hospitalizations.

But both of these justifications are misleading. While it is true that Texas has vaccinated close to 6 million people, according to the CDC, less than 2 million out of 29 million state residents have received both doses needed to be considered fully inoculated. 

Beyond that, the CDC’s latest vaccination report ranks Texas 48th in vaccination rates out of all 50 states. Part of that is tied to the lag the state faced because of the storm, but experts still say this just proves that the state needs to be focus on catching up and vaccinating more people instead of rolling back restrictions.

To that point, public health officials have also pushed back against Abbott’s use of declining hospitalization rates as a rationale for his reopening plans. They warned that current hospitalization declines are already slowing and could reverse, and that will only get worse with reopenings.

Other States Reopen

Texas, however, is not the only state that has rolled back restrictions lately, or even just in the past 24 hours.

On Tuesday alone, the governors of Louisiana and Michigan as well as the mayors of Chicago and San Francisco all announced that they would be easing some restrictions on businesses and/or the capacity at which they operate.

Right after Abbott’s announcement, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) made a nearly identical one with an even shorter timeline. In a tweet, he said that starting Wednesday, he would lift all county mask mandates and allow businesses to “operate at full capacity without any state-imposed rules.”

The recent easing of restrictions is part of a broader trend — and not just in states that have Republican governors or large conservative populations.

While California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) slammed Abbott’s move as “absolutely reckless,” he has also been widely condemned by leaders in his state for recently rolling back numerous restrictions.

Over the last few weeks, the Democratic governors of Virginia, North Carolina, and New York have all also lifted or otherwise modified regulations to make them less restrictive. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Dallas Morning News) (Business Insider)

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Georgia House Passes Sweeping Bill To Restrict Voting Access

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  • The Georgia House approved an election bill Monday that would impose new restrictions on absentee voting and provisional ballots, cut weekend early voting hours, and limit physical access to voting options, among other measures.
  • Republicans proposed the bill after losing the Presidential and Senate races, arguing that it is necessary to restore confidence in the state’s elections and prevent fraud.
  • Democrats have condemned the proposed law, noting that Republicans created the distrust by spreading former President Trump’s false claims about election fraud even when top GOP officials in the state said there was no evidence. They also accused them of trying to suppress voters, particularly Black residents.

Georgia House Approves Election Bill

Republicans in the Georgia House passed a sweeping bill Monday that would significantly roll back voting access in the state.

The bill, which was proposed by Republicans who want to impose new restrictions after losing the election, was passed 97-72 along party lines. If signed into law, among other things, the legislation would:

  • Require a photo ID for absentee voting.
  • Cut the amount of time voters have to request an absentee ballot.
  • Restrict ballot drop box locations to inside early voting locations.
  • Shorten Georgia’s runoff election period.
  • Impose more strict regulations on provisional ballots.
  • Prevent the governments from mailing out unsolicited absentee ballot applications to registered voters.
  • Ban nonprofit organizations from helping fund elections.
  • Almost entirely cut early voting busses that are key to transport people to the polls.
  • Prohibit food and drinks from being distributed to voters waiting in long lines.
  • Limit early voting hours on weekends.

The last provision is one of the most controversial because it would include limiting the get-out-the-vote campaign known as “souls to the polls,” which is widely used by Black churches. That initiative has been credited with mobilizing Black voters all over the country since the Jim Crow era. The proposed law would limit events to just one Sunday during the early voting period, which would also be cut short.

Arguments For And Against The Bill

The Republicans who have pushed for the bill argue that it is necessary to restore public confidence in Georgia’s elections and help prevent fraud.

But Democrats, voting rights organizations, and protestors who have gathered in front of the capitol to demonstrate against the bill have pointed out that it was Republicans who hurt public trust in the state’s elections by repeating former President Donald Trump’s false claims about election fraud.

Meanwhile, numerous top Republican officials — including Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger — have said time and time again that there was no evidence of fraud in the 2020 elections.

Though notably, many Republican state legislators who supported the former president’s false that massive fraud had occurred in their states never contested the results of their own elections, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Democrats have also said that the bill is just the Republican’s latest, transparent attempt to drive down turnout and suppress voters — particularly Black voters who helped Democrat’s wins in the state and take the Senate — rather than actually increase election security.

Next Steps

As far as what happens next, the bill will head to the state Senate, which is also Republican-controlled, and already considering its own elections bill that would end no-excuse absentee voting, among other things.

From there, it will go to Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who will likely sympathetic to the cause.

Notably, this legislation the only election bill like this being proposed in state capitols around the country or even in Georgia.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, legislators in 43 states are considering more than 250 bills that would create impediments to voting. Dozens of those proposals exist in Georgia alone.

See what others are saying: (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (NPR) (The Associated Press)

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