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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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Campaign Season Gets Rolling This Month With Primaries in 13 States

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Several of the contests taking place this month will serve as important tests for Trump-backed candidates and how much power the former president still has over the GOP.


May Primaries Start With Key Race in Ohio

The 2022 midterm season is officially heating up this month with 13 states heading to the polls.

Voters in Indiana and Ohio will kick off the busy month on Tuesday with several highly anticipated races, including one closely watched contest for the seat being vacated by long-time Senator Rob Portman (R-Oh.)

The fight for Portman’s seat has been a heated one: candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars, held numerous debates and forums, and at one point, two of them even got into a physical confrontation. 

The main reason there are so many eyes on this race is because it will prove to be a key test for former President Donald Trump and the influence he has over the party. While Portman has generally been moderate and, at times, more readily critical of Trump than many others in his party, the Republican primary campaign has basically been a fight to see who is the most in line with Trump.

According to FiveThirtyEight, all but one of the seven Republican senate candidates embraced the former president’s election fraud lies as they fought for his coveted endorsement in a state he won by eight points in both 2016 and 2020.

Trump, for his part, ultimately ended up endorsing Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in a move that surprised many, because Vance had previously been vocally opposed to the former leader and his competitors had spent months running ads noting that fact.

However, the fight for Trump’s backing appears to have been worth it. Last week, a Fox News poll found that support for Vance has surged by double-digits since Trump’s endorsement, making him the front-runner.

Still, as FiveThirtyEight reports, “other factions of the party haven’t given up the fight either — which means the primary will be a direct test of how much clout Trump has when other Republican elites dare to defy him.” 

Meanwhile, there are also concerns regarding the ongoing legal battle over Ohio’s congressional map and the confusion that has caused for the state’s election calendar. For weeks, it was widely believed the state’s primaries would be pushed back after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered GOP lawmakers to redraw their map.

The map had been gerrymandered to give Republicans 12 out of the 15 congressional seats in the state even though they had only won around 55% of the popular vote. Ohio voters also previously passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.

The election, however, is still going forward anyway, even as early voting was down a whopping 40% from the last election, and the legislative races will not be on the ballot Tuesday, meaning there will have to be a second primary, which will likely drive down turnout even more.

Other Major Races This Month

There are also other notable contests scheduled for later this month. On May 17, there will be two additional races for seats vacated by Republican senators in North Carolina and Pennsylvania that will serve as important indicators of the former president’s sway over the party.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, the main Trump test focuses on two statewide races for the positions currently held by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). The two infamously angered Trump after they refused to help him overturn the election, and as a result, many are watching to see if the former president’s full-fledged pressure campaign against them will work.

In Georgia and other battlegrounds voting this month, Democrats are also hoping they can make inroads — particularly in Pennsylvania. But recent polls have not painted a good picture for the party. Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 47% of voters said they were more likely to vote for the Republican in their district, while just 44% said they would back Democrats. 

The poll marked the first time in eight years that a Marist survey found the GOP with an advantage for congressional ballot tests. 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (FiveThirtyEight) (PennLive)

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New York’s Highest Court Strikes Down Democrat-Gerrymandered Map

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The move represents a major blow to Democrats, who stood to gain as many as three seats in Congress if their map had been accepted.


Appeals Court Ruling

The New York State Court of Appeals struck down a congressional map drawn by the state’s Democrats Wednesday, dealing the party a major blow.

In the decision, the state’s highest court agreed with Republicans who had argued that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. The justices called the map “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”

The court also condemned the Democrats for ignoring a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that aimed to limit political influence in redistricting, which included the creation of an independent entity to draw maps that the legislature would then vote on. However, the commission created to prevent partisan gerrymandering was unable to decide on a map because of its own partisan stalemate. As a result, Democrats in the legislature took it upon themselves to draw a final map.

But the version that the legislature passed and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law re-drew lines so that Democrats could have gained as many as three new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Such gains would be highly significant in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, where Republicans are expected to make substantial gains and may very well take back the House. Unsurprisingly, Republicans sued, and a lower court struck down the map.

In their order, the Appeals Court justices took away the legislature’s ability to make the map and instead delegated that power to a court-appointed “neutral expert.” 

While the judges did say there was enough time to finish the map before the primary elections in June, they also added that the Congressional contests would likely need to be moved to August. Races for governor and other statewide officials, however, would stay the same.

Broader Trends

The Appeals Court ruling is unique in that it targets Democrats, but it also comes as part of the broader trend of state courts cracking down on gerrymandering — though most other instances have stemmed from GOP-drawn maps.

In just the first four months of 2022, state courts in Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland have all struck down redistricting plans crafted by lawmakers.

Unlike the New York ruling, some of those other courts have implied that they will still allow those maps to be used in the 2022 elections. Such a decision would very likely disadvantage Democrats even more.

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

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McCarthy Warned Far-Right Lawmakers Could Incite Violence After Jan. 6 in New Audio of Leaked Call

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The conversations represent a marked difference from the public efforts of McCarthy and other Republican leaders to downplay their members actions.


Leaked Audio

Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) expressed concern about far-right Republicans inciting violence and openly voiced support for censoring them on Twitter, according to audio published by The New York Times on Tuesday.

The recordings, which come from a call among party leaders and aides on Jan. 10, are by far the clearest evidence top Republicans acknowledged that their members played a role in stoking violence before the insurrection and threatened to do so after.

They also emphasize the vast difference between what top Republicans, especially McCarthy, said behind closed doors, and how they downplayed and ignored the actions of their members in public. 

One of the most notable elements of these recordings is that McCarthy and the others explicitly identified several individuals by name. They focused mainly on Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) and Mo Brooks (R-Al.) as the primary offenders.

In the audio, McCarthy can be heard flagging Gaetz right off the bat.

“Tension is too high. The country is too crazy,” he added. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.” 

Specifically, McCarthy and the others talked about how Gaetz had gone on TV to attack multiple Republicans for being unsupportive of former President Donald Trump after Jan. 6. They particularly expressed concern over his targeting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), who was a member of the leadership team and had already been facing threats.

Others on the call also noted that Brooks had spoken at the rally before the insurrection, where he made incendiary remarks that many have viewed as direct calls to violence. McCarthy said the public comments from his members “have to stop,” adding he would call Gaetz and have others do the same to tell him that this “is serious shit” and “to cut this out.”

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking House Republican, asserted at one point that Gaetz’s actions were “potentially illegal.” 

“Well, he’s putting people in jeopardy, and he doesn’t need to be doing this,” McCarthy responded. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”

Republicans on the call also mentioned incendiary remarks from other members, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.), Barry Moore (R-Al.), and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.). Cheney pointed to Boebert as a security risk, noting she had tweeted out incredibly sensitive information about the movements of top leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) during the attack on the Capitol.

“Our members have got to start paying attention to what they say, too, and you can’t put up with that shit,” McCarthy added later. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?”

McCarthy in Hot Water

The newly published recordings also come just days after The Times reported that McCarthy had told members on a call after the insurrection that he would urge Trump to resign.

McCarthy initially called the reporting “totally false and wrong,” but shortly after his denial, The Times received permission from their source to publish audio where he can be heard saying precisely that.

McCarthy, for his part, has tried to spin the situation, claiming that his remarks were still true because he never actually followed through on the plan to call Trump. 

Still, the situation prompted widespread backlash from the far-right faction of the Republican party. 

Multiple people expressed hesitancy about their support for McCarthy as Speaker of the House if Republicans take control of the chamber in the midterm elections. Some said they could not trust him.

Speaking on his show Tuesday, Foxs News host Tucker Carlson called McCarthy “a puppet of the Democratic Party.”

Gaetz also responded with ire, tweeting out a statement in which he referred to the call as “sniveling” and said of McCarthy and Scalise: “This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”

Other members mentioned in the call, however, appeared to brush it off. In a statement to Axios, Moore claimed that the story was engineered by “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), and that “Republicans will be more united than ever after taking back the House this November.”

It currently remains unclear whether these revelations with pose any long-term threat to McCarthy, but if Trump is any indication of the far-right party line, the House leader may be in the clear.

After The Times published the audio of McCarthy saying Trump should resign, the former president told The Wall Street Journal that the relationship between the two men was untroubled.

“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” he added. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”

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

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