- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has asked the Federal Reserve to return $455 billion in stimulus funding for key emergency lending programs when they expire at the end of the year.
- Previously, the Treasury Department was expected to extend those programs as the pandemic is still raging. Because it’s now pursuing the opposite, the Fed has rebuked Mnuchin’s decision, a rare move to see from the agency.
- Other critics have called Mnuchin’s move political, saying it appears to be a blatant attempt to hamper Biden’s transition into the White House in January.
- Still, the Fed has agreed to return the funding, and it’s now being reported that the money will be placed into an account that Mnuchin’s likely successor, Janet Yellen, will need Congressional approval to access.
Mnuchin To End Emergency Funding Without Extension
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that he doesn’t plan to extend $455 billion in key emergency lending programs past the end of the year. Instead, he’s planning on stashing that money in a fund that his successor can’t reach without Congressional approval.
Mnuchin has asked Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell to return the $455 billion in unused funding. Notably, that money is meant to fund programs stemming from the $2 trillion CARES Act — the only stimulus package Congress has agreed upon thus far. Those programs are meant to prop up the economy by providing financial assistance and loans for struggling businesses and local governments.
In his letter to Powell, Mnuchin said the Fed programs “have clearly achieved their objective” because “Markets responded positively, spreads tightened, and banks continued lending.”
While he also said that Congress will later be able to use that $455 billion for other purposes, such as PPP and grants, his decision has been so controversial that even the Fed criticized it. That’s highly unusual because the Fed isn’t usually keen on inserting itself within sensitive political issues.
The Fed has said that the programs are necessary while the pandemic rages on. In fact, it even noted the “important role” of these programs “as a backstop for our still-strained and vulnerable economy.”
The Treasury Department cannot simply reallocate that money on its own. Instead, it needs agreement from the Fed. Despite the Fed’s criticism, it ultimately gave that agreement on Friday.
Critics Blast Mnuchin’s Plan as an Attack on Biden
Top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Patrick Toomey have backed Mnuchin’s decision. Last week, McConnell described it as “fully aligned with the letter of the law and the intent of the Congress.”
Among some Republicans, there is a concern that leaving the programs operational for too long could distort markets.
On top of that, only about $20 billion of that $455 billion has actually been used, likely because the program’s loan terms for small- and medium-sized businesses are very restrictive. Still, that’s not to say this money hasn’t been useful. As The New York Times pointed out, “Some programs calmed market conditions merely by reassuring investors.”
Connected to that and similar to the Fed’s arguments, economists are concerned that Mnuchin is pulling the plug on these programs too soon, arguing that they should not be ended before the markets have fully recovered.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce — the largest lobbying group in the country — said that Mnuchin’s decision to end these programs “closes the door on important liquidity options for businesses at a time when they need them most.”
The chamber also added that it “unnecessarily ties the hands of the incoming administration.”
“This appears to be a political move by Team Trump to limit what President-elect Joe Biden can do next year to boost the economy, especially if Congress fails to pass a big stimulus,” Jaret Seiberg, an analyst at Cowen Inc., added.
“It’s not just closing the store down for Biden,” policy economist Ernie Tedeschi said. “It’s burning the store down.”
Mnuchin has said that this decision isn’t political. He also argued that in the “unlikely event” that these programs need to be re-established, the Fed can still request approval from other emergency funds.
Yellen Would Need Congressional Approval to Access Funds
Still, as The New York Times noted last week, this move could prevent President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming Treasury secretary from quickly restarting the efforts at scale in 2021.
That incoming secretary is expected to be Janet Yellen, who Biden chose for the role on Monday. Notably, if confirmed by the Senate, she would be the first female Treasury secretary.
On Tuesday, it was reported that Mnuchin is planning on moving that $455 billion into the Treasury’s General Fund, which means that Yellen would need Congressional approval to access any of that money.
That would then leave Yellen with only $80 billion at her discretion. While that might sound like a lot of money for the average person, it’s much less than the nearly half a trillion dollars currently set to be removed from play.
It also comes at a time where coronavirus cases are spiking, local and state governments are once again employing more restrictive lockdowns, and millions of people are set to lose their unemployment benefits at the end of the year.
Bharat Ramamurti, a Democratic member of the congressional watchdog panel overseeing the $455 billion, said on Twitter that Mnuchin’s move is illegal and that it can be reversed next year.
A spokesperson for the Treasury has asserted that Mnuchin’s move is legal under the CARES Act.
In the summer, Mnuchin initially extended the fund’s expiration date, which is why it now expires at the end of the year.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Axios) (Bloomberg)
Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena
The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.
Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.
The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.
In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.
Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.
Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee.
That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.
After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.
Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.
Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts
The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.
It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same.
The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively — are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.
Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.
As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.
Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)
Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December
The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.
Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily
The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.
The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.
After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.
The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday.
The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.
“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.
The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession.
Major Hurdles Remain
While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.
Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain.
Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.
Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.
Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.
Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.
Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.
In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul.
As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported.
It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
California Makes Universal Voting by Mail Permanent
California is now the eighth state to make universal mail-in ballots permanent after it temporarily adopted the policy for elections held amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
CA Approves Universal Voting by Mail
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Monday requiring every registered voter in the state to be mailed a ballot at least 29 days before an election, whether they request it or not.
Assembly Bill 37 makes permanent a practice that was temporarily adopted for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law, which officially takes effect in January, also extends the time mail ballots have to arrive at elections offices from three days to seven days after an election. Voters can still choose to cast their vote in person if they prefer.
Supporters of the policy have cheered the move, arguing that proactively sending ballots to registered voters increases turnout.
“Data shows that sending everyone a ballot in the mail provides voters access. And when voters get ballots in the mail, they vote,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), said during a Senate committee hearing in July.
Meanwhile opponents — mostly Republicans — have long cast doubts about the safety of mail-in voting, despite a lack of evidence to support their claims that it leads to widespread voter fraud. That strategy, however, has also faced notable pushback from some that a lot of Republicans who say it can actually hurt GOP turnout.
Others May Follow
The new legislation probably isn’t too surprising for California, where over 50% of votes cast in general elections have been through mail ballots since 2012, according to The Sacramento Bee. Now, many believe California will be followed by similar legislation from Democrats across the country as more Republican leaders move forward with elections bills that significantly limit voting access.
Newsome signed 10 other measures Monday changing election and campaign procedures, including a bill that would require anyone advocating for or against a candidate to stand farther away from a polling place. Another bill increases penalties for candidates who use campaign funds for personal expenses while a third measure increases reporting requirements for limited liability corporations that engage in campaign activity.
“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” Newsom said in a statement.
“Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.”
The news regarding California came just in time for National Voter Registration day today, giving Americans another reminder to make sure they’re registered in their states. For more information on how to register, visit Vote.gov or any of the other resources linked below.