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Senators Unveil $908 Billion Stimulus Proposal

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  • After months of stalled negotiations, a bipartisan group of senators put forward a new stimulus package proposal.
  • The plan, which the senators said was intended to be a framework for legislation both parties could agree to, includes an additional $300 a week in expanded unemployment benefits and $25 billion for housing assistance, among other actions.
  • Those two provisions are essential for continuing assistance to Americans struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, as both federal unemployment benefits and the federal eviction moratorium are set to expire at the end of the month.
  • If Congress does not act, upwards of 12 million Americans will lose their unemployment benefits by Dec. 26 and an estimated 19 million will risk losing their homes during the height of the pandemic in the coming months.

New Stimulus Plan

A bipartisan group of senators announced a new $908 billion stimulus proposal Wednesday, marking both the first time talks have restarted since the election and arguably the most concrete step towards a coronavirus relief bill that Congress has taken in months.

With negotiations on the much-needed stimulus package stalled this summer and again ahead of the election, the roughly half a dozen senators behind the new plan have been working for weeks to break the stalemate with a deal that seeks to find a middle ground on key issues.

In their announcement, the Republican and Democratic lawmakers framed the proposal as a template for the kind of legislation that both sides could pass before the new year.

Among other things, the working plan includes: $160 billion for state and local governments, $288 billion for loans to small businesses, $180 billion for unemployment insurance — which reportedly would come out to an additional $300 a week in expanded benefits — and $25 billion in housing assistance.

Those last two provisions are arguably the most important for the American people because there is a huge cliff at the end of the month when key unemployment benefits and major federal eviction protections are both set to run out. If Congress does not act, millions of Americans could lose absolutely essential lifelines at a time when many are already struggling financially.

Unemployment

On Dec. 26, both the federal programs that provide benefits for freelancers and allow unemployed workers to collect an extra 13 weeks of benefits are set to expire, leaving the vast majority of the 20 million Americans who were collecting benefits as of October (the most recent data available) with few stopgaps.

According to a recent study from the progressive think tank The Century Foundation, 12 million of those workers will lose those benefits entirely when that deadline hits — and that is in addition to the roughly 4.4. million who will have already exhausted that aid before then.

Many people collecting unemployment insurance are still hurting. A report released Monday by the watchdog Government Accountability Office found the Department of Labor has been both under and overcounting the number of people collecting unemployment benefits and giving out less federal benefits than it should.

The report also stated that failure to extend these federal benefits will harm those people even more, and risk sending some households below the poverty line. 

Evictions

To that point, many struggling unemployed Americans who may have had trouble paying their rent are also at risk of losing their homes during the height of the pandemic when the federal eviction moratorium ends on Dec. 31.

The existing moratorium was imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in September after the federal ban on evictions passed under the CARES Act expired at the end of July and Congress failed to renew it.

Technically, the CDC could act again to extend it without Congress, but that would still leave some major holes.

First and foremost, the federal ban does not apply to all American renters, and while many cities and states imposed their own eviction bans and provided other forms of renter relief, many of those protections have already expired or will soon.

In fact, a new study by The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) estimates that as many as 6.7 million renter households — or roughly 19 million people — risk being evicted in the coming months. 

While an extension of the ban would definitely be a good thing, without any additional relief for renters, it would essentially kick the underlying issue down the road. The CDC moratorium just makes it so renters can’t be evicted if they do not pay rent while the policy is in place — but it does not mean they do not have to pay rent at all.

Once the ban is lifted, not only do renters have to start paying again, they also have to pay back all the rent they missed as well as any late fees they may have built up if their landlords decided not to waive them. If they do not pay their debts, they can be evicted.

In other words: many people will owe months and months of rent they cannot pay. Even if the CDC extends the moratorium so they will not have to pay in January, the CDC cannot legally allocate money for rent relief — at a federal level, that has to be done through Congress. 

Cities and states could continue to help their efforts to help out with similar programs, but the NLIHC estimates that $100 billion in emergency rental assistance is needed to avoid an eviction crisis, and with local governments already running of money because of the pandemic, they likely will not be able to do much without more money from another stimulus 

Future of Coronavirus Relief

However, the future of any stimulus bill before these deadlines hit still remains unclear. While the proposal announced today was drafted by senators from both parties, it is still uncertain if leadership will sign on.

For months the people at the very top have failed to compromise and refused to budge from their drastically different proposals. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) has pushed for a much more comprehensive $2.2 trillion package. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has insisted on a much smaller $500 billion bill that would not include money to state and local governments or another round of stimulus checks but would include sweeping liability protections for businesses so they could not be sued if an employee or customer got COVID because of their lack of safety precautions.

Those issues have been major points of contention between the two parties, and even when they agree on what should be included in the bill, they disagree on funding levels — with Democrats pushing for more and Republicans for less.

Notably, both Pelosi and McConnell have expressed optimism about coming to an agreement in recent days.

“I’m optimistic that we will have bipartisanship to put something together to go forward because I do believe that many of our colleagues understand what’s happening in their districts and want to make a difference,” Pelosi told reporters right before the Thanksgiving recess.

While speaking on the Senate floor just yesterday, McConnell also echoed those remarks, saying  “there’s no reason” Congress could not approve a “major” stimulus bill. However, he also blamed Democrats for refusing to compromise, saying they should consider smaller provisions.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) responded by lobbing essentially the same accusations at McConnell, saying he had only advanced a Republican wish list rather than negotiating with Democrats, and arguing that “both sides must give.”

Clearly, there are still some major, lingering issues the parties need to resolve, but the clock is ticking. In addition to the key deadlines at the end of the month, Congress also must pass a spending bill to fund the government by Dec. 11 or risk a shutdown.

While currently separate from any proposed stimulus bill, some experts and congressional aides are pinning their hopes of COVID relief measures being rolled into the $1.4 trillion annual government budget.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNBC) (CNN)

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Analysts Say Online Misinformation Has Plummeted 73% Since Trump’s Twitter Ban

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  • Online misinformation fell 73% in the week following President Donald Trump’s ban on Twitter, according to the San Francisco-based analytics firm Zignal Labs.
  • The firm also found that QAnon-related hashtags and phrases saw a decrease in use. Since the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Twitter has banned more than 70,000 accounts associated with QAnon.
  • Meanwhile, Poland’s government has now introduced legislation to crack down on bans and content removal by social media platforms. 

Misinformation Onlines Drops 

A recent analysis from a San Francisco-based analytics firm suggests that online misinformation has plunged 73% since Twitter first banned President Donald Trump on Jan. 8.

Twitter — followed by a host of other social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat — enacted the ban following the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump insurrectionists. 

According to the firm, Zignal Labs, discussions of election fraud on various sites dropped from 2.5 million mentions to just 688,000 between Jan. 9 and Jan. 15. 

Zignal Labs also found that the use of common hashtags and phrases associated with QAnon conspiracy theories dropped off during the same time frame. Part of that is likely because, alongside Trump’s ban, Twitter banned more than 70,000 QAnon accounts.

“Bottom line is that de-platforming, especially at the scale that occurred last week, rapidly curbs momentum and ability to reach new audiences,” Graham Brookie, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, told The Washington Post. “That said, it also has the tendency to harden the views of those already engaged in the spread of that type of false information.”

On Sunday, Twitter also temporarily suspended Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) account. According to Twitter, Green’s page was locked for 12 hours because of “multiple violations of our civic integrity policy.”

Green’s account includes a treasure trove of false claims about voter fraud in Georgia. She’s also peddled QAnon conspiracy theories.

Poland Seeks to Regulate Social Media Bans

News of decreased misinformation online also comes as Poland’s hard-right Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro has proposed a new bill marketed as a “freedom of speech protection” law.

Notably, if it passes, that law would prevent social media platforms from deleting content or banning users who don’t break Polish law.

If a platform refuses to comply with an order to restore either a banned user or deleted content, it could face fines of anywhere from $13,000 to $13 million dollars. 

Despite this, domestic regulations on their own are likely to be ineffective. Because of that, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is also lobbying the European Union to regulate the issue. 

Critics of the law have argued that the “over-removal” of content on social media is a “non-existent risk,” especially when compared to hate speech targeting the LGBTQ+ community, Muslims, and refugees.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (BBC)

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Biden Outlines $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Plan

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  • President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus proposal on Thursday.
  • Under the plan, $1 trillion would go to direct relief for Americans. This includes a round of $1,400 stimulus checks, an extension and $400 weekly increase to federal unemployment benefits, and a $15 minimum wage.
  • The proposal would also allocate $440 billion for aid to local governments and businesses, as well as provide $400 billion to directly fight the coronavirus with more testing and vaccinations, among other efforts.

Biden Outlines Direct Aid in Stimulus Plan

President-elect Joe Biden announced the details of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus package while speaking at an event in Wilmington, Delaware on Thursday.

Biden described the package, titled “American Rescue Plan,” as a set of emergency measures to immediately address the country’s economic and healthcare needs. The package will be followed by a second, broader relief package in February, which will aim to address more long-term economic recovery efforts.

Most significantly, $1 trillion — more than half of the funding allocated in the first package — will go to direct relief for Americans. Among other measures, the direct aid provisions in the plan include increasing federal unemployment benefits from $300 a week to $400 a week and extending them from March to September.

Biden’s plan also includes $1,400 stimulus checks to top off the $600 already approved in the December stimulus package. However, eligibility for the direct payments would be expanded to families of non-citizen immigrants as well as families with adult dependents.

Additionally, the proposal includes several other measures targeted at directly helping struggling Americans, such as raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, adding billions in funding for child care, and expanding the child tax credit to poor and middle-class families.

Broader Goals

As for the broader economic and pandemic-centered measures, Biden’s package would allocate $440 billion for aid to states, local governments, and businesses. It would also provide $400 billion to directly fight the coronavirus, with a major focus on expanding testing and accelerating vaccine distribution.

Biden has set the dual goals of delivering 100 million vaccines and reopening the majority of K-12 public schools in his first 100 days. To meet that objective, his plan includes $20 billion for a universal vaccination program, $50 billion to expand testing, and $130 billion to help schools reopen safely.

The proposal, overall, meets many of the demands for direct aid that Democrats have pushed for months but have been unable to approve with the Republican-controlled Senate. Now that Democrats hold the presidency and control of both chambers, many members have urged Biden to ask for an even higher price tag.

Biden, for his part, has said he would like to try for a bipartisan majority on his first piece of legislation, but given Republicans months-long resistance to many Democratic asks, that desire is likely a pipe-dream.

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

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Democrats Ask for Investigation into GOP Members Aiding Rioters

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  • More than 30 House Democrats signed a letter Wednesday demanding that security officials look into “suspicious behavior and access given to visitors” at the Capitol the day before last week’s insurrection.
  • The lawmakers claimed they “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting, including guests who “appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day.”
  • The letter comes one day after Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) accused her Republican colleagues of bringing rioters into the Capitol the day before for “reconnaissance.” 
  • Notably, neither the letter nor Sherill herself directly named any members, and these claims have not yet been verified.

Demands for Investigation

Congressional Democrats are demanding an investigation into whether Republican representatives aided the Capitol rioters who lead last Wednesday’s insurrection.

In a letter signed by 31 members Wednesday, lawmakers asked the acting House and Senate Sergeants at Arms to look into “suspicious behavior and access given to visitors” the day right before the attack. 

In that letter, the Democrats say that they as well as some of their staffers “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting the Capitol.

They pointed out that was unusual because the building has restricted public access since March as part of pandemic protocols. Since then, tourists have only been allowed to enter the Capitol if they were brought in by a member of Congress.

The members found the tours “so concerning” that they reported them to the Sergeant at Arms the same day.

“The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day,” the letter continued. “Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex.” 

The demands come after Rep. Mikie Sherrill (R-NJ) claimed during a Facebook livestream Tuesday that she saw Republican representatives bringing now-identified rioters into the Capitol the day before the riots for “reconnaissance.” Sherrill also alleged that some of her GOP colleagues “abetted” Trump and “incited this violent crowd.”

Members Under Fire

Neither the letter nor Sherill have directly named any members, and none of these claims have yet been verified. However, over the last few days, a number of Republicans have been condemned for their perceived involvement in inciting the rioters.

In a now-deleted video, right-wing conspiracy theorist and “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander claimed he had planned the rally that took place before the riot with the help of three House Republicans: Paul Gosar (Az.), Andy Biggs (Az.), and Mo Brooks (Al.). All three men voted to undermine the will of the American people and throw out the electoral votes in Arizona following the insurrection. 

Biggs and Brooks have both denied that they have any involvement, but Gosar, who tagged Alexander in a tweet he posted just hours before the attack, has not responded to any requests for comment from several outlets.

“Biden should concede,” Gosar wrote. “I want his concession on my desk tomorrow morning. Don’t make me come over there. #StopTheSteaI2021”

While Brooks has denied any involvement in planning the rally, his remarks to the would-be domestic terrorists at the event have sparked widespread condemnation.

“Today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” he told the crowd. “Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America?”

Some House Democrats introduced resolutions to censure Brooks for his comments. Other members have also been pushing to invoke Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, a relic of the post-Civil War era which disqualifies people who “have engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S. from holding public office. 

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) has also received 47 co-sponsored on her proposed resolution that would start investigations for “removal of the members who attempted to overturn the results of the election and incited a white supremacist attempted coup.”

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

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