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Democrats Reject $916 Billion White House Stimulus Proposal That Trades Weekly Unemployment Benefits for One-Time Checks

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  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin submitted a $916 billion White House COVID-19 relief proposal Tuesday that trades $300 in weekly unemployment benefits for a one-time $600 payout to Americans.
  • Top Democrats swiftly rejected the proposal as “unacceptable.” Meanwhile, top Republicans have suggested a willingness to accept the deal.
  • Without Democratic support, the White House proposal is likely dead on arrival. 
  • That means the last hope for Americans to receive some form of stimulus relief before the end of the year rests with a $908 billion bipartisan proposal, which has not yet been finalized.
  • The lack of a deal comes as eviction moratoriums are set to expire on Jan. 1, potentially resulting in millions of Americans losing their homes amid the pandemic and during winter.

One Time Payment VS. Additional Unemployment Benefits

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin proposed a $916 billion COVID-19 relief package on Tuesday that would swap $300 weekly unemployment benefits for a one-time $600 payout to Americans. 

The deal would also give Americans $600 per child, but by largely not incorporating weekly unemployment benefits, it chops unemployment spending to $40 billion as opposed to the $180 billion that has been proposed in a bipartisan relief bill totaling $908 billion. 

Top Democrats quickly denounced the White House-backed package. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Ca.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) described it as “unacceptable” in a joint statement.

“The president’s proposal must not be allowed to obstruct the bipartisan congressional talks that are underway,” they said. 

Top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Ca.) have reportedly been much more receptive to Mnuchin’s proposal.

“It’s a very good offer,” McCarthy told reporters. “It focuses on the things that need to be there.”

While the final details of the bipartisan $908 billion plan have still yet to be published, it does include a provision that guarantees an additional $300 a week in expanded unemployment benefits. It also currently includes provisions for $288 billion in loans to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program and other similar programs, $25 billion in housing assistance, $160 billion for state and local governments, and short-term federal protections for businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

What’s not included? The one-time, direct payments.

In March, the government sent Americans  $1,200 through the CARES Act.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have criticized the $908 billion bipartisan bill for not including the direct payments. In fact, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he would vote against any relief bill that doesn’t include a direct payment.

Meanwhile, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said Tuesday that he doesn’t understand why other lawmakers are “pretty dug in on the idea of not including checks.”

“I see them saying things like, ‘This is an emergency relief bill,’” he added. “I don’t know what’s more of an emergency than working people and families who are having to get into food lines… I don’t understand that logic at all.”

Where Does McConnell Stand?

While Pelosi and Schumer have both agreed to that bipartisan $908 billion package as a basis for negotiations, McConnell has refused to embrace it.

In fact, Tuesday was the first time that McConnell has offered any real concessions in months. That happened when McConnell offered to drop two controversial provisions that have left Democrats and Republicans at odds and stalled a final package.

The first involves passing liability protections for businesses that reopen during the pandemic. Republicans have argued that such a provision is necessary to protect small businesses from lawsuits; however, Democrats have rejected that idea, arguing that protections would potentially allow employers to endanger their employees.

The second involves Democrats’ demand that the federal government allocate funding for state and local governments. Some Republicans have labeled this provision a “blue-state bailout,” arguing that the federal government shouldn’t swoop in to save states with bad budgeting.

McCarthy said Tuesday that a final bill should include either both of these provisions or neither. Mnuchin’s proposal, as well as the $908 billion bipartisan plan, includes both provisions.

“We know the new administration is going to be asking for another package,” McConnell said Tuesday before Mnuchin’s proposal went public. “What I recommend is we set aside liability, and set aside state and local, and pass those things that we agree on, knowing full well we’ll be back at this after the first of the year.”

Democrats have largely written off that concession. In fact, Schumer argued the state and local government funding proposal has had much more bipartisan support than the business liability provision. 

With Democrats also refusing to budge by giving up the provision to provide additional unemployment benefits, it seems like this White House proposal is likely dead on arrival. 

That means the last hope for government relief before the end of the rests on the bipartisan $908 billion stimulus bill, but the problem is that it still hasn’t been finalized. 

It was originally thought that the bill might be published Monday. When that didn’t come, many believed it would come Tuesday, but as of now, it’s still being negotiated.

The delay comes as the House voted Wednesday to stave off a scheduled government shutdown from this Friday to next week. Amid COVID-19 relief, Congress is also trying to negotiate a massive funding bill for the new fiscal year. 

Eviction Moratoriums Up On Jan. 1

Time is running out, and it is unclear how McConnell will respond to the bipartisan bill once it’s finalized. 

Tens of millions of people are still out of work. Eviction moratoriums are scheduled to expire at the end of this month. According to Moody’s Analytics, on average, about 12 million Americans are nearly $6,000 behind on payments. Some estimates even report that as many as 20 million tenets are at risk of eviction. 

While President-elect Joe Biden has promised to sign executive orders extending eviction moratoriums and even advocated for rent forgiveness on the campaign trail, he doesn’t take office until Jan. 20. 

Some states like California have moratoriums past Jan. 1 and have now introduced proposals to extend their moratoriums even further. Along with some other states, it has also instituted grace periods for tenets to pay back rent. 

Even if that 20 million number ends up being much more conservative in reality, it could still mean millions of people facing eviction filings at the beginning of next month.

“The economic damage created by this pandemic will be many times more severe if we lose faith that the government has our back,” Moody Chief Economist, Mark Zandi, told The Washington Post. “The reality on the ground is going to be very dark, with people losing homes in the dead of winter during a pandemic.” 

According to an August analysis by the centrist think tank Urban Institute, another round of stimulus checks could keep up to 6.3 million people out of poverty.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Business Insider) (CNN)

Politics

Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena

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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)

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Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December

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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)

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California Makes Universal Voting by Mail Permanent

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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.

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (Los Angeles Times) (The Sacramento Bee)

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