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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)

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Federal Court Throws Out Alabama Congressional Map, Citing Racial Gerrymandering

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The judges ruled that the Republican-held legislature gerrymandered the map so the state only had one Black-majority district despite Black residents composing 27% of the state’s population.


Alabama Ordered to Redraw Map

A panel of federal judges tossed Alabama’s new congressional map on Monday, ruling that the current version significantly weakens the voting power of Black residents.   

In their decision, the three judges noted that while about 27% of Alabamians are Black, the map drawn by the Republican-led legislature after the 2020 census was gerrymandered to leave just one of the state’s seven districts with a Black majority.

“Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress,” the judges wrote. “We find that the plaintiffs will suffer an irreparable harm if they must vote in the 2022 congressional elections based on a redistricting plan that violates federal law.”

As a result, the panel also ordered state lawmakers to redraw their map so that it includes “two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”

The legislature was given 14 days to redo their map before they appoint a special master to do so.

Ongoing Legal Battles

Shortly after the ruling, a spokesperson for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement that his office “strongly disagrees with the court’s decision and will be appealing in the coming days.” 

According to reports, the matter could ultimately go to the Supreme Court, which would decide whether lawmakers can draw maps that are gerrymandered along racial lines.

The high court ruled in 2019 that federal courts do not have the power to block congressional maps that are gerrymandered to skew districts in a partisan manner unless a state’s constitution explicitly prohibits such gerrymandering. The justices did keep parts of the Voting Rights Act that ban racial or ethnic gerrymandering, which the federal panel claimed was the case in Alabama.

Alabama’s congressional map is not the only one drawn by Republicans that has been thrown out in recent weeks. Earlier this month, Ohio’s Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to redraw a map that would have given Republicans 12 congressional seats and Democrats just three despite the fact that recently the GOP has only won about 55% of the popular vote statewide.

The state’s high court ruled that the map clearly violated a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (AL.com)

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Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Affirmative Action Cases at Harvard and UNC

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The decision to take up the two cases marks the first time affirmative action will go before the high court’s latest conservative-majority bloc.


SCOTUS Takes on Race-Conscious Admissions, Again

The Supreme Court announced Monday that it will again consider whether race-conscious admissions programs at universities are legal in two cases that could have serious implications for affirmative action.

The two lawsuits center around admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), both of which were brought by the conservative nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions.

The Harvard case started in 2014 with a lawsuit that claimed the school discriminated against Asian American students by effectively creating a quota for their admission. It also alleged the school a subjective standard to measure personality traits like likability, courage, and kindness.

The Ivy League school denied the allegations, claiming the challengers used incorrect statistical analysis and broadly arguing that race-conscious policies are legal.

In the case against UNC, the group alleged that the school discriminated against white and Asian applicants by giving preference to Black, Hispanic, and Native American students.

The university, for its part, argued that its policies create more diversity among its student body, also echoing Harvard’s argument that such rules are legal under decades of Supreme Court precedents.

Past Precedent Up in the Air

Lower courts ruled in favor of both schools, finding they did indeed comply with Supreme Court decisions.

But in taking up these two cases, the high court’s conservative majority will now examine whether race-conscious admissions are legal at all. The move could decide the future of affirmative action and undermine more than four decades of precedent on the use of race in college admissions.

The last two times the high court took up cases regarding affirmative action, the justices upheld the constitutionality of race-conscious programs by slim majorities. Now, those majorities have been replaced by a conservative bloc that includes three justices appointed by former President Donald Trump.

According to reports, the justices will likely hear the cases in October. 

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

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Pelosi Reverses Course, Signals Openness to Stock Trading Ban for Congress

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The move comes as public and bipartisan support for legislation banning Congress members from stock trading has grown in recent weeks.


Pelosi Backtracks on Member Trading

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) on Thursday signaled openness to legislation that would ban members of Congress from trading stocks, reversing her previous position on the matter.

“I do come down always in favor of trusting our members,” Pelosi said at a press conference. “If the impression that is given by some that somebody is doing insider trading, that’s a Justice Department issue and that has no place in any of this.”

“To give a blanket attitude of ‘We can’t do this and we can’t do,’ because we can’t be trusted, I just don’t buy into that. But if members want to do that, I’m okay with that,” she continued.

The speaker’s remarks come as she has faced mounting backlash for voicing opposition to such a ban. 

“We are a free market economy,” she told reporters when asked about the matter last month. “They should be able to participate in that.”

While Pelosi herself does not trade, her husband has invested millions in stocks. Those trades have been made public under the 2012 STOCK Act, which has required Congress members and their spouses to disclose when they buy and sell stocks for the last decade.

But the law has a mixed track record. A recent investigation by Insider found that “dozens of lawmakers and 182 senior congressional staff” have violated the law.

The act also came under intense scrutiny after financial disclosures filed by lawmakers exposed that members of both parties made trades in 2020 that benefited their portfolios after receiving early briefings on the seriousness of the pandemic. 

The Justice Department reviewed some of the cases, but it ultimately did not bring any charges. 

Momentum Grows for Congressional Ban

In recent weeks, pressure to reform the STOCK Act has been growing both among the public and in Congress.

Proponents argue that Congress members should be banned from trading stocks altogether to ensure they do not have conflicts of interest or use their access to classified briefings to make money.

According to a new poll from the progressive firm Data for Progress, 67% of voters support a ban. That number rose to 74% when the respondents were given arguments both for and against the idea.

In Congress, there is widespread bipartisan support for legislation to impose stricter regulations, including among top leadership.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) has reportedly said he is considering banning members from trading if Republicans win control of the House and select him as Speaker in 2022.

“I cannot imagine being a Speaker of the House with the power of what can come before committee, you name them and what can come to the floor and trading millions of dollars worth of options,” he told NPR earlier this month. “I just don’t think the American people think that’s right.”

Members of both parties have already put forth proposals. Last week, Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Mark Kelly (D-Az.) introduced legislation that would effectively ban lawmakers, as well as their spouses and dependents, from buying and selling stocks.

The same day, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) rolled out a very similar bill, though his version would not include dependents.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Hill) (Business Insider)

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