- The White House has admitted that Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation will have a smaller price tag than hoped. But it has not yet revealed where behind-the-scenes negotiations end up. Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to her Democratic colleagues saying members largely think that a shrunken version of Biden’s Build Back Better $3.5tn bill should focus on spending more money on fewer objectives (not spreading the eventually-agreed price tag more thinly over more programs).
- Kamala Harris said that Europeans who colonized North America “ushered in a wave of devastation for tribal nations, perpetrating violence, stealing land and spreading disease.” In remarks at the National Congress of American Indians 78th annual convention, Harris discussed the history of colonization in the Americas and its connection to present-day Indigenous communities.
- The House approved a short-term debt ceiling deal. Members returned early from recess for this vote, which ended up with a party-line vote of 219-206. The bill will raise the debt ceiling by $480bn, until early December. The president is expected to sign it soon.
– Gloria Oladipo, Joanna Walters, Maanvi Singh
The debt ceiling deal punts bigger questions over the country’s statutory borrowing limit by just a few weeks.
The deal came about after Republicans blocked Democrats’ attempts at a long-term increase, with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell asking them to pass such a provision without Republican support using reconciliation. Democrats don’t want to use reconciliation, saying it would allow Republicans to skirt responsibility for debt that has already accrued.
House leader Nancy Pelosi has floated the idea of transferring the responsibility of lifting the debt limit to the Treasury Department, as a way to bypass partisan arguments over the borrowing cap and avert the periodic nail-biting over a catastrophic default.
House approves short-term debt ceiling deal
The House returned early from recess for this vote, which ended up with a party-line vote of 219-206.
The bill will raise the debt ceiling by $480bn, until early December. The president is expected to sign it soon.
The House is now voting on the short term debt limit deal.
Voting is painfully slow, with nearly half the members voting via proxy. The Senate has already approved this deal. Here’s some background on it, and its (limited) impact:
Interpreter who helped rescue Biden in 2008 snowstorm flees Afghanistan
An Afghan interpreter who helped rescue Joe Biden after his helicopter made an emergency landing during a snowstorm in 2008, when he was a senator, has escaped Afghanistan with his family.
After the Taliban takeover in August, Aman Khalili remained in hiding for weeks before crossing into Pakistan and then flying on a US government aircraft to Doha, Qatar, where thousands of refugees from Afghanistan are being processed by US officials.
Khalili, his wife and five children had been unable to flee in the emergency airlift after the fall of Kabul, but managed to escape with the help of US military veterans and former Afghan soldiers, the Wall Street Journal reported.
In 2008 Khalili was working as an interpreter for US forces when Biden and two other lawmakers, Chuck Hagel and John Kerry, visited Afghanistan.
When a snowstorm forced the military helicopter carrying the politicians to make an emergency landing in a remote valley, Khalili joined a small military unit which drove from Bagram airbase to rescue them.
“Aman helped keep me and other Americans safe while we were fighting in Afghanistan, and we wanted to return the favor,” said Brian Genthe, a combat veteran who worked with Khalili told the Journal. “He’s a blessing.”
Khalili was unable to secure a US visa before the Taliban seized control, and was quoted in a Journal story in late August saying: “Hello Mr President: Save me and my family.”
The White House press secretary Jen Psaki later pledged to help Khalili and his family, who hid in a safe house in Kabul.
Unable to board a refugee flight from Mazar-i-Sharif, in part because they lacked Afghan passports, the family traveled overland surreptitiously for two days to the Pakistan border, which they crossed on 5 October.
As lawmakers debate boosting social programs, financial problems afflict 40% of US households
The survey by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health also showed that in those last few months, as the US struggled to contain the infectious Delta coronavirus variant, the percentage of households reporting serious financial problems rose to 59% when they had an income under $50,000 a year.
Among those lower-income households, 30% said they had lost all their savings during the coronavirus pandemic.
Reports of serious financial problems were not equal across racial and ethnic groups: 57% of Latinos, 56% of Black people and 50% of Native Americans said they had experienced serious financial problems in the past few months, compared with 29% of white people.
The problems were reported despite government assistance meant to lessen the financial burden of the Covid-19 pandemic. Of households surveyed, 67% said they had received financial assistance from the government in the past few months.
The survey of roughly 3,600 US adults was conducted between 2 August and 7 September. It also found that among households with children in kindergarten through high school, 69% said their children had fallen behind because of the pandemic.
In the past few months, 17% of households reported serious problems affording medical care, including 28% of households with annual incomes below $50,000.
The House, which is expected to vote soon on the short-term deal to increase the government’s debt limit.
Ahead of the vote, 197 members – nearly half of the chamber – have designated another member to vote on their behalf. The system, called proxy voting, allows members to excuse themselves from being there in person “due to the ongoing public health emergency.”
Members were asked to return from recess to vote n the debt limit and work out deals on the infrastructure bill and reconciliation bill.
Today so far
Hello again, blog readers, our west coast colleague Maanvi Singh is taking over the blog now to guide you through US political developments over the next few hours, including the expected debt deal vote shortly in the House.
Here’s how the day has gone so far:
- The White House has admitted that Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation will have a smaller price tag than hoped but has not yet revealed whether behind-the-scenes negotiations will see Joe Biden favoring a ‘more money for fewer projects’ strategy, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated her caucus favors, or some other route.
- Vice President Kamala Harris said that Europeans who colonized North America “ushered in a wave of devastation for tribal nations, perpetrating violence, stealing land and spreading disease.”
- Donald Trump’s family-business-owned flagship (but loss-making) hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, steps from the White House, is close to being sold, according to the WSJ.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to her Democratic colleagues saying members largely think that a shrunken version of Biden’s Build Back Better $3.5tn bill should focus on spending more money on fewer objectives (not spreading the eventually-agreed price tag more thinly over more programs)
‘There will be things that people can’t get,’ at Christmas, White House warns.
A rather alarming report just out from Reuters, with White House officials warning of the possibility of higher prices and shortages over the holiday season because of problems in the supply chain.
The news agency reports:
White House officials, scrambling to relieve global supply bottlenecks choking U.S. ports, highways and railways, warn that Americans may face higher prices and some empty shelves this Christmas season.
The supply crisis, driven in part by the global COVID-19 pandemic, not only threatens to dampen U.S. spending at a critical time, it also poses a political risk for President Joe Biden.
The White House has been trying to tackle inflation-inducing supply bottlenecks of everything from meat to semiconductors, and formed a task force in June that meets weekly and named a “bottleneck” czar to push private-sector companies to ease snarls.
Biden himself plans to meet with top executives from retail giants Wal-Mart Inc and Home Depot Inc and with unions and other stakeholders on Wednesday to discuss efforts to relieve transportation bottlenecks before delivering a speech on the topic.
American consumers, unused to empty store shelves, may need to be flexible and patient, White House officials said.
“There will be things that people can’t get,” a senior White House official told Reuters, when asked about holiday shopping.
“At the same time, a lot of these goods are hopefully substitutable by other things. … I don’t think there’s any real reason to be panicked, but we all feel the frustration and there’s a certain need for patience to help get through a relatively short period of time.”
Inflation is eating into wages. Labor Department data shows that Americans made 0.9% less per hour on average in August than they did one year prior.
The White House argues inflation is a sign that their decision to provide historic support to small businesses and households, through $1.9 trillion in COVID-19 relief funding, worked.
U.S. consumer demand stayed strong, outpacing global rivals, and the Biden administration expects the overall economy to grow at 7.1%, as inflation reaches its highest levels since the 1980s.
Debate is under way in the House on the short-term deal to increase the government’s debt limit – averting an economic crisis, at least until December.
Democrats are hoping some Republicans will come on board when they vote on the bill this evening, so that they can hold up a bipartisan flag.
The debates can be watched live on C-Span or you can just keep an eye out for the main developments here!
The House returned early from recess to get this task done, before continuing with intense negotiations over Joe Biden’s crucial next two bills – the bipartisan one on infrastructure and the larger budgetary one on social programs and climate change.
The Associated Press reports:
With the governor of Texas leading the charge, conservative Republicans in several states are moving to block or undercut President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates for private employers before the regulations are even issued.
The growing battle over what some see as overreach by the federal government is firing up a segment of the Republican Party base, even though many large employers have already decided on their own to require their workers to get the shot.
The dustup will almost certainly end up in court since GOP attorneys general in nearly half of the states have vowed to sue once the rule is unveiled.
The courts have long upheld vaccine mandates, and the Constitution gives the federal government the upper hand over the states, but with the details still unannounced and more conservative judges on the bench, the outcome isn’t entirely clear.
On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order barring private companies or any other entity from requiring vaccines. It was perhaps the most direct challenge yet to Biden’s announcement a month ago that workers at private companies with more than 100 employees would have to get either vaccinated or tested weekly for the coronavirus….
White House officials brushed off Abbott’s order, saying the question of whether state law could supersede federal was settled 160 years ago during the Civil War. They said the Biden administration will push through the opposition and put into effect the president’s package of mandates, which could affect up to 100 million Americans in all.
…Elsewhere, lawmakers in Arkansas have approved a measure creating vaccine-mandate exemptions. Though the GOP governor hasn’t said whether he will sign it, it has prompted fears businesses will be forced to choose whether to break federal or state law.
Calls for special legislative sessions to counter vaccine mandates have been heard in states like Wyoming, Kansas and South Dakota. Bills are being introduced or drafted elsewhere too, including swing states like Ohio and New Hampshire. In Utah, lawmakers have not taken action, but a record-setting crowd of over 600 people packed a legislative hearing room last week…
…While the conservative legislative push may not ultimately succeed in blocking the mandates, it could be a stumbling block and could prove to be another factor pushing the GOP further right.
Meanwhile, some data:
‘There are choices that need to be made’ on $3.5tn bill – WH
The White House has addressed strategies to get Joe Biden’s flagship $3.5tn finance bill passed, confirming that the president is in favor of trimming the package to boost its chances of being approved by Congress.
“We are at a point where there are choices that need to be made, given that there are fewer dollars that will be spent,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Psaki said that the conversations are ongoing between White House senior staff and the president as well as key Democrats such as senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona about how to trim the bill and what a smaller package would look like.
Psaki was asked if the president supports House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s strategy for the “Build Back Better” bill outlined in a letter she sent to caucus members on Monday, passing a bill with fewer programs that will receive more funding. Though she wouldn’t confirm if the president supports that specific strategy, Psaki noted that the bill will be smaller versus the $3.5tn Biden originally proposed and chose to refer to comments Pelosi made during a press conference today.
“What [Pelosi] said in that press conference is that, “If there are fewer dollars to be spent, there are choices that need to be made” and the president agrees … if it’s smaller than $3.5tn, which we know it will be, then there are choices that need to be made,” said Psaki.
“A bill that doesn’t pass means nothing changes,” said Psaki to reporters.
When asked if the Biden administration will sue the state of Texas over a recent ban on vaccine mandates, the White House said: “The president will use every lever at his disposal” to enforce federal vaccine mandates ordered by Joe Biden last month.
At the press briefing today, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked by a reporter if the US plans on suing the Lone Star state over Governor Abbott’s recent executive order banning vaccine mandates throughout the state, a reversal on a previous decision allowing private businesses to decide if they will implement mandates.
Psaki criticized Abbott, noting mounting Covid-19 deaths in Texas. “Why would you be taking steps that prevent the saving of lives?” said Psaki.
Psaki also reiterated that the Biden administration will continue to implement federal vaccine mandates for employers, doubling down that the president has the authority to do so.
“We’re going to continue to implement the law…which the [president] has the authority to do,” said Psaki.
Today so far
The House is gathering soon to consider the temporary debt ceiling agreement and the White House is just beginning its regular media briefing now, with press sec Jen Psaki.
It’s been a lively morning so far, here are the highlights:
- Vice-President Kamala Harris said today that Europeans who colonized the US “ushered in a wave of devastation for tribal nations, perpetrating violence, stealing land and spreading disease”.
- Barack Obama will travel to Richmond, Virginia, on 23 October to campaign for Democratic governor candidate Terry McAuliffe. Stacey Abrams and Jill Biden are also hitting the trail soon for the veteran politician.
- Prominent liberal commentators are getting worried about the fate of Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The NYT and BNC’s Charles Blow warned that the Democratic administration “are staring down real danger”.
- Donald Trump’s family company is close to selling his luxury Washington DC hotel for more than $370m, reports the Wall Street Journal.
- The House of Representatives is returning a week early from its recess today in order to vote on the deal approved in the Senate last Friday to extend the government’s borrowing authority into December.
Questions over Moderna’s booster shots, as Pfizer recipients flock.
There are some important Associated Press reports today on US coronavirus vaccinations.
The news agency first reports on booster shots by US company Moderna, saying:
Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration said that Moderna Inc had not met all of the agency’s criteria to support use of booster doses of its Covid-19 vaccine, possibly because the efficacy of the shot’s first two doses has remained strong.
FDA staff said in documents that data for Moderna’s vaccine showed that a booster does increase protective antibodies, but the difference in antibody levels before and after the shot was not wide enough, particularly in those whose levels had remained high.
The documents were released ahead of a meeting later this week of the FDA’s outside expert advisers to discuss booster doses of the vaccine.
The FDA typically follows the advice of its experts, but is not bound to do so. A panel of advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will meet next week to discuss specific recommendations on who can receive the boosters, if the FDA authorizes them.
Meanwhile, the AP further reports that 103 million Americans have had the US-German Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, 69 million people in the US have been injected with Moderna’s shot and 15 million with the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
US vaccinations have climbed back above 1 million per day on average, an increase of more than 50% over the past two weeks. The rise has been driven mainly by Pfizer boosters and employer vaccine mandates.
With many Americans who got Pfizer vaccinations already rolling up their sleeves for a booster shot, millions who received the Moderna or J&J vaccine are waiting to learn when it’s their turn.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was “disappointed” that Democrats are not moving forward with the full scope of Joe Biden’s $3.5tn social policy and climate change package, reiterating that lawmakers would have to make “difficult” decisions to trim the package to win the support of two centrist holdouts in the Senate.
Speaking at a press conference today, Pelosi wouldn’t expand on which programs might be scaled back or eliminated. The full bill includes provisions that would reduce child care costs, expand health care coverage, make education more affordable and combat climate change.
But Pelosi also appeared to walk back what she said in a letter to her caucus on Monday that House Democrats “overwhelmingly” supported a less-is-more approach to scaling back the bill: investing more money in fewer programs.
When asked if any key provisions would have to be cut, such as universal pre-K, the child tax credit, tuition-free community college, paid family leave, Medicare expansion, Pelosi said she hoped not and suggested making all programs temporary in order to cut costs. The logic is that a Republican administration would have a hard time repealing popular programs, as has been the case historically.
Pelosi again reiterated that she would not make the House vote on a package that could not earn 50 votes in the Senate. Currently, Democrats are attempting to winnow the package by at least $1.5tn to in order to secure the votes of two centrist Democrats, senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
The Senate is in recess this week, but Pelosi was in Washington today for a House vote to raise the nation’s borrowing limit to avoid a debt-default. The bill is expected to pass the Democratic-controlled House, but Pelosi said she was hopeful it would be approved with bipartisan support.
“That seems to have some appeal to both sides of the aisle because of the consequences to people for not lifting it,” Pelosi said.