Connect with us

Politics

Unemployment Numbers Spike as Renewed Stimulus Talks Stall

Published

on

  • Weekly unemployment claims have spiked to 853,000, their highest numbers since mid-September as job growth falters.
  • Economists say that without another stimulus package, the U.S. economy will continue to slow.
  • Despite earlier optimism that a $908 billion bipartisan proposal would pass, Congress has reached another impasse, with liability protections for business and funding to states and local governments being the two major sticking points.
  • Democrats have accepted Republicans’ demands, agreeing to temporary liability projections. Republicans, meanwhile, have refused to support more funding for states, arguing the money amounts to “blue-state bailouts.”
  • However, red states are expected to suffer even more from budget shortfalls plaguing most state and local governments, and unless more is done, there will be major long-term economic damage.

Unemployment Numbers Spike

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) reported Thursday that another 853,000 Americans filed new unemployment claims in the first week of December, an increase of 137,000 more claims than the week before and the largest spike since mid-September.

Another 428,000 people filed under the federal joblessness benefits program for freelancers and self-employed workers, a nearly 50% increase from the week before. The increase in claims comes as the U.S. is reporting a sharp decrease in job growth.

Last week, the DOL reported that only 245,000 new jobs were created in November, less than half of the 610,000 jobs that were added to the economy the month before.

As more states and cities continue to impose tightened restrictions on both consumers and businesses in an attempt to curb the staggering increases in COVID-19 cases, economists are worried that layoffs will surge again.

Many experts also say that the economic recovery will just continue to slow if the federal government does not provide more aid for Americans and businesses.

But despite earlier optimism over the $908 billion proposal introduced by a bipartisan group of senators last week, Congress has hit another impasse. While Democratic leadership agreed to compromise and back the framework, top Republicans have refused to do the same.

White House Proposal

In an apparent attempt to bring the two sides together, the White House put forward its own $916 billion proposal Tuesday.

Although the package, which was announced by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, sought to reach some middle ground on key issues, it also created another set of problems.

While Mnuchin’s plan included another round of one-time stimulus checks worth $600 per person, with another $600 per child, it also proposed huge cuts to unemployment benefits laid out in the bipartisan framework.

Under the initial package, Congress would approve $180 billion in new federal unemployment benefits, which would be enough to both extended existing programs set to expire in about two weeks and add a supplementary $300 a week for jobless Americans. 

Despite costing more, the White House plan would slash that number to just $40 billion, and according to people familiar with the proposal, while it would extend the federal benefits, it would not give any federal additional aid to the millions of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet.

Democratic leaders immediately denounced the White House proposal. In a joint statement, House Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) called the proposed cuts to unemployment “unacceptable.”

On the other side, several key Republicans embraced the framework. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) said it was “a very good offer,” and even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has refused to reach any kind of compromise with the Democrats on the bipartisan bill, signaled openness to the idea.

However, McConnell also suggested dropping two specific provisions in the White House framework that have been arguably the biggest sticking points for the two parties: the liability protections that prevent businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits if a customer or employee is infected on-site, and any sort of funding for state and local governments.

Republicans have repeatedly insisted that the next stimulus bill include this liability measure, and McConnells’ remarks represent the only concession he has made in months. The argument Republicans have made for the provision is that it is needed to protect small businesses from the wave of lawsuits related to the pandemic that McConnell has warned about. 

Economic data shows that there have been relatively few lawsuits so far, and Democrats, have continuously rejected the idea, which Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) called, “a get-out-of-jail-free card to companies that put the lives of their workers and customers at risk.” 

Despite those objections, Democratic leadership still agreed to the more limited, temporary version of the liability protections for businesses put forward in the bipartisan proposal. In other words, the only “concession” McConnell has made is on a provision that Democrats have already agreed to compromise on. Meanwhile, he is still demanding that they let go of one of their biggest asks.

State and Local Funding

For months, Democrats have said that they will not move forward on a bill that does not include funding for state and local governments. Republicans have refused to budge on their objections, and branding the effort as a “blue-state bailout.”

But this issue is not something that just affects Democrats or Republicans: states all over the country are struggling with severe budget crises because of the pandemic.

In fact, according to a recent report from Moody’s Analytics, six of the seven states that are expected to suffer the biggest declines in revenue over the next two years are red states led by Republican governors and won by Trump in the election.

Governors and local leaders all across the country have repeatedly begged Congress to give them additional federal aid, and while Congress did give them some money under the CARES Act passed in March, states are still under enormous financial strain.

From the get-go, much of the coronavirus-related spending has fallen on state and local leaders, and the Trump administration has continued to put the bulk of the responsibility in the hands of governors without giving them the tools to do so.

Meanwhile, there has been an increased demand for unemployment benefits and other state-funded social safety-net programs that are either wholly or partially state-funded. However, according to economists, the biggest reason states are losing money is because the economic shutdowns have also significantly decreased tax revenues. 

Sales tax revenue, which is the largest source of revenue for the majority of states, has tanked because businesses are shut down and consumers are staying home. Income tax revenue has also tanked as unemployment rates have risen and people collecting those benefits have stopped paying income taxes.

Local businesses, which are also major sources of tax revenue directly and through their employees, are being forced to either fire those employees or shut down entirely. Notably, all of the stimulus proposals would include another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans for small businesses, but experts say it likely would not be enough.

Studies have shown that PPP loans have not been effective in helping these local businesses in the long run.

“P.P.P. never really served these kinds of businesses very well. More and more of them are boarding up and closing down, and it’s a real hit to the community, a real hit to the quality of life in these communities,” Laura Tyson, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, told The New York Times.

Multiple reports have also found that the funds were largely allocated poorly and even improperly at times. 

One recent study from The Counter, an independent, food-focused news organization, found that just 1% of PPP borrowers took in a quarter of the loan money, and many of those were large companies.

In fact, the organization also reported that large fast-food franchises alone took in more than $60 billion in PPP funding through a loophole that allowed large companies to be eligible for the loans as long they employed less than 500 people at one location.

“The Counter also found multiple instances where conglomerates appeared to bypass the $10 million cap on loans through the use of subsidiaries,” the study said.

However, these small local businesses that are being thrown under the bus for the Wendy’s and Taco Bell’s of the world are not only important facets of the local economies they serve, they are also essential to the future of the American economy as a whole, 

As The Times reports, “If [local businesses] fail in large numbers, it will slow the economic recovery once the pandemic is over.”

Some states have taken action to help out these small businesses, but at large, they are very limited in what they can do. In addition to being generally cash-strapped, unlike the federal government, the vast majority of states cannot deficit spend if they run out of money. 

Absent a federal stimulus, the only way for states to get more money would be to raise taxes or make massive budget cuts. Both options would put significant strain on the millions of struggling Americans and have a broader, negative multiplier effect on the already faltering American economy.

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

Politics

Biden Mistakenly Calls Out For Dead Lawmaker at White House Event

Published

on

The remarks prompted concerns about the mental state of the president, who previously mourned the congresswoman’s death in an official White House statement.


“Where’s Jackie?” 

Video of President Joe Biden publicly asking if a congresswoman who died last month was present at a White House event went viral Wednesday, giving rise to renewed questions about the leader’s mental acuity.

The remarks were made at the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, which Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-In.) had helped convene and organize before her sudden death in a car accident.

The president thanked the group of bipartisan lawmakers who helped make the event happen, listing them off one by one, and appearing to look around in search of Rep. Walorski when he reached her name.

“Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie?” he called. “I think she wasn’t going to be here to help make this a reality.” 

The incident flummoxed many, especially because Biden had even acknowledged her work on the conference in an official White House statement following her death last month.

“Jill and I are shocked and saddened by the death of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski of Indiana along with two members of her staff in a car accident today in Indiana,” the statement read.

“I appreciated her partnership as we plan for a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this fall that will be marked by her deep care for the needs of rural America.”

The Age Maximum Question

Numerous social media users and news outlets presented the mishap as evidence that Biden, who is 79, does not have the mental capacity to serve as president. Others, meanwhile, raised the possibility of imposing an age maximum for the presidency.

Most of the comments against the president came from the right, which has regularly questioned his mental stability. However, the idea of an age limit goes beyond Biden and touches on concerns about America’s most important leaders being too old.

While Biden is the oldest president in history, former President Donald Trump — who is 76 and has also had his mental state continually questioned — would have likewise held that title if he had won re-election in 2020.

These concerns extend outside the presidency as well: the current session of Congress is the oldest on average of any Congress in recent history, and the median ages are fairly similar among Republicans and Democrats when separated by chambers.

There is also a higher percentage of federal lawmakers who are older than the median age. Nearly 1 out of every 4 members are over the age of 70.

Source: Business Insider

What’s more, some of the people in the highest leadership positions are among the oldest members. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), is the oldest-ever House Speaker at 82, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — the president pro tempore of the Senate and third person in line for the presidency — is the same age, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is 80.

As a result, it is unsurprising that a recent Insider/Morning Consult poll found that 3 in 4 Americans support an age max for members of Congress, and more than 40% say they view the ages of political leaders as a “major” problem.

Those who support the regulations argue that age limits are standard practice in many industries, including for airplane pilots and the military, and thus should be imposed on those who have incredible amounts of power over the country.

However, setting age boundaries on Congress and the President would almost certainly necessitate changes to the Constitution, and because such a move would require federal lawmakers to curtail their own power, there is little political will.

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

Continue Reading

Politics

Churches Protected Loophole in Abuse Reporting for 20 years, Report Finds

Published

on

In some cases, Clergy members failed to report abuse among their congregation, but state laws protected them from that responsibility.


A Nationwide Campaign to Hide Abuse

More than 130 bills seeking to create or amend child sexual abuse reporting laws have been neutered or killed due to religious opposition over the past two decades, according to a review by the Associated Press.

Many states have laws requiring professionals such as physicians, teachers, and psychotherapists to report any information pertaining to alleged child sexual abuse to authorities. In 33 states, however, clergy are exempt from those requirements if they deem the information privileged.

All of the reform bills reviewed either targeted this loophole and failed or amended the mandatory reporting statute without touching the loophole.

“The Roman Catholic Church has used its well-funded lobbying infrastructure and deep influence among lawmakers in some states to protect the privilege,” the AP stated. “Influential members of the Mormon church and Jehovah’s witnesses have also worked in statehouses and courts to preserve it in areas where their membership is high.”

“This loophole has resulted in an unknown number of predators being allowed to continue abusing children for years despite having confessed the behavior to religious officials,” the report continued.

“They believe they’re on a divine mission that justifies keeping the name and the reputation of their institution pristine,” David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, told the outlet. “So the leadership has a strong disincentive to involve the authorities, police or child protection people.”

Abuses Go Unreported

Last month, another AP investigation discovered that a Mormon bishop acting under the direction of church leaders in Arizona failed to report a church member who had confessed to sexually abusing his five-year-old daughter.

Merrill Nelson, a church lawyer and Republican lawmaker in Utah, reportedly advised the bishop against making the report because of Arizona’s clergy loophole, effectively allowing the father to allegedly rape and abuse three of his children for years.

Democratic State Sen. Victoria Steele proposed three bills in response to the case to close the loophole but told the AP that key Mormon legislators thwarted her efforts.

In Montana, a woman who was abused by a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses won a $35 million jury verdict against the church because it failed to report her abuse, but in 2020 the state supreme court reversed the judgment, citing the state’s reporting exemption for clergy.

In 2013, a former Idaho police officer turned himself in for abusing children after having told 15 members of the Mormon church, but prosecutors declined to charge the institution for not reporting him because it was protected under the clergy loophole.

The Mormon church said in a written statement to the AP that a member who confesses child sex abuse “has come seeking an opportunity to reconcile with God and to seek forgiveness for their actions. … That confession is considered sacred, and in most states, is regarded as a protected religious conversation owned by the confessor.”

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Deseret) (Standard Examiner)

Continue Reading

Politics

Texas AG Ken Paxton Allegedly Flees Official Serving Subpoenas in Truck

Published

on

Following the news, a judge granted the attorney general’s request to quash the subpoenas.


Paxton on the Run

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fled his own home in a truck Monday morning to evade an official trying to serve him a subpoena, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

Last month, several nonprofits filed a lawsuit seeking to block Texas from charging individuals under the state’s abortion ban in cases that happened out of state or prior to Roe v. Wade being overturned.

Two subpoenas were issued summoning Paxton to a Tuesday court hearing, one for his professional title and the other addressed to him personally.

Early on Monday Ernesto Martin Herrera, a process server, knocked on the front door of Paxton’s home in McKinney and was greeted by Texas state senator Angela Paxton, who is the Attorney General’s wife.

According to the affidavit, Herrera identified himself and informed her that he was delivering court documents to Mr. Paxton. She responded that her husband was on the phone and in a hurry to leave, so Herrera returned to his vehicle and waited for Ken to emerge.

Nearly an hour later, the affidavit states, a black Chevrolet Tahoe pulled into the driveway, and 20 minutes after that, the attorney general stepped out.

“I walked up the driveway approaching Mr. Paxton and called him by his name,” Herrera wrote in the affidavit. “As soon as he saw me and heard me call his name out, he turned around and RAN back inside the house through the same door in the garage.”

Shortly afterward, Angela exited the house and climbed into a truck in the driveway, leaving a rear driver-side door open.

“A few minutes later I saw Mr. Paxton RAN from the door inside the garage towards the rear door behind the driver side,” Herrera wrote. “I approached the truck, and loudly called him by his name and stated that I had court documents for him.”

“Mr. Paxton ignored me and kept heading for the truck,” he continued.

The affidavit adds that Herrera placed the documents on the ground by the vehicle and stated that he was serving a subpoena, but the Paxtons drove away.

Process Server or Lingering Stranger?

Following the publication of the affidavit in The Texas Tribune, Ken attacked the news outlet on Twitter and claimed to fear for his safety.

“This is a ridiculous waste of time and the media should be ashamed of themselves,” he wrote. “All across the country, conservatives have faced threats to their safety – many threats that received scant coverage or condemnation from the mainstream media.”

“It’s clear that the media wants to drum up another controversy involving my work as Attorney General, so they’re attacking me for having the audacity to avoid a stranger lingering outside my home and showing concern about the safety and well-being of my family,” he continued.

On Monday, the attorney general filed two requests: a motion to quash the subpoena and another to seal the certificates of service, which included the affidavit.

His lawyers argued that Herrera “loitered at the Attorney General’s home for over an hour, repeatedly shouted at him, and accosted” him and his wife.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman granted both requests on Tuesday.

In a statement, the attorney general said that Herrera is “lucky this situation did not escalate further or necessitate force.”

See what others are saying: (The Texas Tribune) (CNN) (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Continue Reading