- 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)
Feds Investigate Classified Files Found in Biden’s Former Office
The documents reportedly include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom
What Was in the Files?
President Biden’s legal team discovered about 10 classified files in his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington D.C., the White House revealed Monday.
The Department of Justice has concluded an initial inquiry into the matter and will determine whether to open a criminal investigation.
According to a source familiar with the matter who spoke to CNN, they include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom.
A source also told CBS News the batch did not contain nuclear secrets and had been contained in a folder in a box with other unclassified papers.
The documents are reportedly from Biden’s time as vice president, but it remains unclear what level of classification they are and how they ended up in his office.
Biden kept an office in the. Penn Biden Center, a think tank about a mile from the White House, between 2017 and 2020, when he was elected president.
On Nov. 2, his lawyers claim, they discovered the documents as they were clearing out the space to vacate it.
They immediately notified the National Archives, which retrieved the files the next morning, according to the White House.
What Happens Next?
Attorney General Merrick Garland must decide whether to open a criminal investigation into Biden’s alleged mishandling of the documents. To that end, he appointed John Lausch Jr., the U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump appointee, to conduct an initial inquiry.
Garland reportedly picked him for the role despite him being in a different jurisdiction to avoid appearing partial.
Lausch has reportedly finished the initial part of his inquiry and provided a preliminary report to Garland.
If a criminal investigation is opened, Garland will likely appoint an independent special counsel to lead it.
The case mirrors a similar DoJ special counsel investigation into former President Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified materials and obstruction of efforts to properly retrieve them.
On Nov. 18, Garland appointed Jack Smith to investigate over 300 classified documents found at Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.
Trump resisted multiple National Archives requests for the documents for months leading up to the FBI’s raid on his property, then handed over 15 boxes of files only for even more to be found still at Mar-a-Lago.
“When is the FBI going to raid the many houses of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump wrote on Truth Social Monday. “These documents were definitely not declassified.”
Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters he will investigate the Biden files.
Republicans have been quick to pounce on the news and compare it to Trump’s classified files, but Democrats have pointed out differences in the small number of documents and Biden’s willingness to cooperate with the National Archives.
The White House has yet to explain why, if the files were first discovered six days before the midterm elections, the White House waited two months to reveal the news to the public.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (BBC)
Lawmakers Propose Bill to Protect Fertility Treatments Amid Post-Roe Threats
The move comes as a number of states are considering anti-abortion bills that could threaten or ban fertility treatments by redefining embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for IVF.
The Right To Build Families Act of 2022
A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would codify the right to use assisted reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertility (IVF) treatments into federal law.
The legislation, dubbed the Right To Build Families Act of 2022, was brought forward by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Il) and Patty Murray (D-Wa.) alongside Rep. Susan Wild (D- Pa.). The measure would bar any limits on seeking or receiving IVF treatments and prohibit regulations on a person’s ability to retain their “reproductive genetic materials.”
The bill would also protect physicians who provide these reproductive services and allow the Justice Department to take civil action against any states that try to limit access to fertility treatments.
The lawmakers argue it is necessary to protect IVF because a number of states have been discussing and proposing legislation that could jeopardize or even ban access to the treatments in the wake of the Roe v. Wade reversal.
“IVF advocates in this country today are publicly telling us, ‘We need this kind of legislation to be able to protect this,’” Murray told HuffPost. “And here we are after the Dobbs decision where states are enacting laws and we have [anti-abortion] advocates who are now starting to talk, especially behind closed doors, about stopping the right for women and men to have IVF procedures done.”
Fertility Treatments Under Treat
The state-level efforts in question are being proposed by Republican lawmakers who wish to further limit abortions by redefining when life begins. Some of the proposals would define embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for those that are created through IVF, where an egg is fertilized by a sperm outside the body and then implanted in a uterus.
For example, a bill has already been pre-filed in Virginia for the 2023 legislative session that explicitly says life begins at fertilization and does not have any specific language that exempts embryos made through IVF.
Experts say these kinds of laws are concerning for a number of reasons. In the IVF process, it is typical to fertilize multiple eggs, but some are discarded. If a person becomes pregnant and does not want to keep the rest of their eggs. It is also normal that not all fertilized eggs will be viable, so physicians will get rid of those.
Sometimes doctors will also implant multiple fertilized eggs to increase the likelihood of pregnancy, but that can result in multiple eggs being fertilized. In order to prevent having multiple babies at once and improve the chance of a healthy pregnancy, people can get a fetal reduction and lower the number of fetuses.
All of those actions could become illegal under proposals that do not provide exemptions.
“In my case, I had five fertilized eggs, and we discarded three because they were not viable. That is now potentially manslaughter in some of these states,” said Duckworth, who had both of her daughters using IVF.
“I also have a fertilized egg that’s frozen. My husband and I haven’t decided what we will do with it, but the head of the Texas Right to Life organization that wrote the bounty law for Texas has come out and specifically said he’s going after IVF next, and he wants control of the embryos,” Duckworth added.
In a hearing after Roe was overturned, Murray also raised concerns about “whether parents and providers could be punished if an embryo doesn’t survive being thawed for implantation, or for disposing unused embryos.”
Experts have said that even if anti-abortion laws defining when life begins do provide exceptions, it would be contradictory and confusing, so providers would likely err on the side of caution and not provide services out of fear of prosecution.
“[Abortion bans] are forcing women to stay pregnant against their will and are, at the very same time, threatening Americans’ ability to build a family through services like IVF,” Murray said in a statement to Axios. “It’s hard to comprehend, and it’s just plain wrong.”
The federal legislation to combat these efforts faces an uphill battle. It is unlikely it will be passed in the last few days of lame duck session, and with control of Congress being handed to Republicans come January, movement in the lower chamber will be hard fought.
Duckworth, however, told Axios that she will keep introducing the legislation “until we can get it passed.”
Hundreds of Oath Keepers Claim to Be Current or Former DHS Employees
The revelation came just weeks after the militia’s founder, Stewart Rhodes, was convicted on seditious conspiracy charges for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
An Agency Crawling With Extremists
Over 300 members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group claim to be current or former employees at the Department of Homeland Security, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) reported Monday.
The review appears to be the first significant public examination of the group’s leaked membership list to focus on the DHS.
The agencies implicated include Border Patrol, Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Secret Service.
“I am currently a 20 year Special Agent with the United States Secret Service. I have been on President Clinton and President Bush’s protective detail. I was a member and instructor on the Presidential Protective Division’s Counter Assault Team (CAT),” one person on the list wrote.
POGO stated that the details he provided the Oath Keepers match those he made in a sworn affidavit filed in federal court.
The finding came just weeks after Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted on seditious conspiracy charges for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“Law enforcement agents who have associations with groups that seek to undermine democratic governance pose a heightened threat because they can compromise probes, misdirecting investigations or leaking confidential investigative information to those groups,” POGO said in its report.
In March, the DHS published an internal study finding that “the Department has significant gaps that have impeded its ability to comprehensively prevent, detect, and respond to potential threats related to domestic violent extremism within DHS.”
Some experts have suggested the DHS may be especially prone to extremist sentiments because of its role in policing immigration. In 2016, the ICE union officially endorsed then-candidate Donald Trump for president, making the first such endorsement in the agency’s history.
The U.S. Government has a White Supremacy Problem
Copious academic research and news reports have shown that far-right extremists have infiltrated local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
In May, a Reuters investigation found at least 15 self-identified law enforcement trainers and dozens of retired instructors listed in a database of Oath Keepers.
In 2019, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that almost 400 current or former law enforcement officials belonged to Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia Facebook groups.
The Pentagon has long struggled with its own extremism problem, which appears to have particularly festered in the wake of the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nearly one in four active-duty service members said in a 2017 Military Times poll that they had observed white nationalism among the troops, and over 40% of non-white service members said the same.
The prevalence of racism in the armed forces is not surprising given that many of the top figures among right-wing extremist groups hailed from the military and those same groups are known to deliberately target disgruntled, returning veterans for recruitment.
Brandon Russell, the founder of the neo-Nazi group AtomWaffen, served in the military, as did George Lincoln Rockwell, commander of the American Nazi Party, Louis Beam, leader of the KKK, and Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nation.
In January, NPR reported that one in five people charged in federal or D.C. courts for their involvement in the Capitol insurrection were current or former military service members.