Senate Official’s Ruling Offers Democrats a Way Around Filibusters
Democrats can now conceivably advance multiple spending and tax packages this year without a single Republican vote. Here’s the latest on politics.,
Democrats might not have the votes to gut the filibuster, but they were just handed the procedural keys to a backdoor assault on the Senate’s famous obstruction tactic.
With a ruling on Monday that Democrats can reuse this year’s budget blueprint at least once to employ the fast-track reconciliation process, Democrats can now conceivably advance multiple spending and tax packages this year without a single Republican vote, as long they hold their 50 members together. It is a means of weakening the filibuster without having to take the politically charged vote to do so.
Democrats insist that they have made no decisions about how to use the tool.
“It is always good to have a series of insurance policies,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, about the possibility that Democrats could duplicate last month’s party-line passage of the $1.9 trillion virus relief legislation, should they not be able to work out deals with Republicans.
But whatever strategy they employ, it is clear that the decision by the Senate parliamentarian to agree with Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, that a 47-year-old budget provision could be used more than once in a fiscal year widens President Biden’s path to enacting his infrastructure plan by shielding it from a filibuster.
It also means other Democratic initiatives could become filibuster-proof moving forward, and is already spurring creative efforts among lawmakers and activists to imagine other priorities that could be stuffed into reconciliation packages.
“I always would prefer to do legislation in a bipartisan way, but we have to get big, bold things done,” Mr. Schumer said in an interview. “And so we need to have as many options as possible if Republicans continue to obstruct.”
The filibuster — which takes 60 votes to overcome — remains an obstacle for many of the policies Democrats would like to enact, such as a sweeping campaign finance and elections measure as well as new gun laws. Centrist Democrats including Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are opposed to eliminating it, arguing that the supermajority requirement forces the kind of broad compromise that lawmakers should be seeking.
But the ruling means that if stymied by Republicans on plans that they can protect under reconciliation — which applies to measures that directly affect federal spending and revenues — Democrats will have more opportunities to move ahead on their own if they choose.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader who had been hoping for an adverse ruling, said Democrats were being driven to twist the process by their inability to win Republican support for their plans and the fear that they will lose the majority next year. Republicans can be expected to put up as many roadblocks as possible to what they see as an attempt to exploit a loophole.
“This is a party that is going hard left, and they are audacious, and they are ambitious, and they will bend the rules and break the rules and rewrite the rules and do everything they can to get what they want as fast as they can,” Mr. McConnell said in an interview.
Both parties have used reconciliation in the past to push a variety of tax cuts and social programs into law, often over the unified opposition of the minority party.
Progressives who want to overturn the filibuster cheered the decision by the parliamentarian because of the possibilities it opened up for enacting Mr. Biden’s agenda. But some of them expressed concern that the ruling could sap momentum for the broader fight to eliminate the filibuster altogether, or push the Senate into a series of reconciliation battles that would leave behind the voting rights bill, known as H.R. 1, and other liberal priorities.
“The Parliamentarian’s ruling on reconciliation is great but doesn’t change the fact that Democrats must either end or reform the filibuster, or HR1 and other voting rights bills will die,” Adam Jentleson, a former Senate Democratic aide backing a filibuster overhaul, wrote on Twitter. “The ruling allows for more vehicles but doesn’t expand the scope of what they contain.”
President Biden plans to say on Tuesday that he is moving up the deadline for states to make all adults eligible for a coronavirus vaccine to April 19, his press secretary said.
The announcement will come as nearly every state in the nation has already heeded earlier calls by the president to accelerate the timelines for when all adult residents will be eligible to be vaccinated — a vast majority now meeting or coming ahead of the April 19 target. On Tuesday, Oregon said those who are 16 or older will be eligible for vaccination on April 19.
“That doesn’t mean they will get it that day,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Tuesday ahead of Mr. Biden’s planned remarks. “That means they can join the line that day, if they have not already.”
Mr. Biden’s most recent target comes almost a month after he set an original deadline of May 1 for every state, and a week after he said that by April 19, 90 percent of adults would be eligible for a shot and will be able to get one within five miles of their home.
A White House official said last week that Mr. Biden revised the timeline because states, encouraged by increases in shipments, were ramping up their vaccination programs more rapidly than expected.
Mr. Biden on Tuesday plans to visit a vaccination site at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Va., then deliver a speech at the White House on the state of vaccinations across the nation.
The U.S. vaccination campaign has steadily picked up pace: More than three million doses are being given on average each day, compared with well under one million when Mr. Biden took office in January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every state has now given at least one dose to a quarter or more of its population. About 62.4 million people — 19 percent of Americans — have been fully vaccinated. And the White House on Tuesday told governors that over 28 million more doses of vaccines will go out to states, jurisdictions and other programs this week.
Mr. Biden has said he hopes for 200 million doses to be administered by his 100th day in office, a goal that the nation is on pace to meet. As of Monday, more than 150 million shots have been administered beginning on Jan. 20, according to data reported by the C.D.C. The federal government has delivered a total of about 207.9 million doses to states, territories and federal agencies since last year.
The recent burst in supply has prompted governors to move up eligibility timelines on their own weeks ahead of Mr. Biden’s original May 1 marker.
“Today, we are pleased to announce another acceleration of the vaccine eligibility phases to earlier than anticipated,” Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland said on Monday, announcing that all Maryland residents age 16 or older would be eligible starting on Tuesday for a vaccine at the state’s mass vaccination sites, and from April 19 at any vaccine provider in the state.
Also on Monday, Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey said residents 16 or older in his state would be eligible on April 19. Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington said later on Monday that city residents 16 or older would also be eligible on April 19.
Public health experts have said that the vaccines are in a race against worrisome coronavirus variants that were first identified in Britain, South Africa and Brazil. New mutations have continued to pop up in the United States, from California to New York to Oregon.
The shots will eventually win, scientists say, but because each infection gives the coronavirus a chance to evolve further, vaccinations must proceed as fast as possible.
As that race continues, the optimism sown by the steady pace of vaccinations may be threatening to undermine the progress the nation has made. Scientists also fear Americans could let their guard down too soon as warmer weather draws them outside and case levels drop far below the devastating surge this winter.
Cases are now rising sharply in parts of the country, with some states offering a stark reminder that the pandemic is far from over: New cases in Michigan have increased by 112 percent and hospitalizations have increased by 108 percent over the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database.
The United States is averaging more than 64,000 new cases each day, a 20 percent increase from two weeks earlier. That’s well below the peak of more than 250,000 new cases daily in January, but on par with last summer’s surge after reopenings in some states, like Arizona, where patrons packed into clubs as hospital beds filled up. The United States is averaging more than 800 Covid-19 deaths each day, the lowest level since November.
The United States and Iran agreed through intermediaries on Tuesday to establish two working groups to try to get both countries back into compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
In a meeting of the current members of the deal in Vienna, all parties agreed to establish one working group to focus on how to get the United States back to the deal by lifting harsh economic sanctions imposed or reimposed after President Donald J. Trump pulled out of the accord in May 2018.
The other working group will focus on how to get Iran back into compliance with the accord’s limitations on nuclear enrichment and stockpiles of enriched uranium.
The two groups have already begun their efforts, according to Mikhail Ulyanov, the Russian representative who is ambassador to international organizations in Vienna. He called Tuesday’s meeting of the joint commission on the Iran deal an initial success.
President Biden has vowed to bring the United States back into the deal, which would mean removing sanctions imposed on Iran after Mr. Trump pulled out of an accord he regarded as too weak. After the American withdrawal, the European signatories failed to provide the economic benefits Iran was due as part of the deal. In 2019, Iran began to violate the enrichment limits of the accord.
United States officials now estimate that Iran’s “breakout time” — the time necessary to assemble enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon — is down to a few months.
Representative Alcee Hastings of Florida, a former civil rights lawyer and federal judge who served in Congress for nearly three decades and became the vice chairman of the House Rules Committee, died Tuesday morning. He was 84.
Mr. Hastings, a Democrat, had announced in 2019 that he had pancreatic cancer. His death was confirmed by his chief of staff, Lale Morrison.
“He lived a full life with an indelible fighting spirit dedicated to equal justice,” Mr. Hastings’s family said in a statement released by his office. “He believed that progress and change can only be achieved through recognizing and respecting the humanity of all mankind. He was never afraid to speak his mind and truly loved serving his constituents and his family.”
His death will narrow Democrats’ already-slim House majority until a special election can be held to fill the seat. His district — Florida’s 20th, which includes Black communities around Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach as well as a huge area around Lake Okeechobee — is reliably Democratic.
Mr. Hastings was born September 5, 1936, in Altamonte Springs, Fla. He attended Fisk University and earned a law degree from Florida A&M University.
He began his career as a civil rights lawyer, including fighting to desegregate schools in Broward County, Fla. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, making him the state’s first Black federal judge, according to his congressional biography.
Congress impeached him and removed him from the bench in 1989 on charges of bribery and perjury, stemming from a criminal trial six years earlier in which he had been acquitted. In 1992, a federal court ruled that the Senate had improperly removed him, and he won election to the House shortly after.
He is survived by his wife, Patricia Williams, and four children.
With Mr. Hastings’s death, there are now 218 Democrats and 211 Republicans in the House, with six seats vacant. One of those seats is expected to be filled next week by Julia Letlow, a Republican who won a special election in Louisiana after her husband, Representative-elect Luke Letlow, died of Covid-19.
In statements on Monday, Mr. Hastings’s congressional colleagues described him as a compassionate colleague and friend, but one who never shied away from political fights.
“He wasn’t afraid to use a little shame to press for change,” said Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat whose district borders his.
Representative Charlie Crist, who was a Republican governor of Florida before becoming a Democrat, said he had “long admired Congressman Hastings’s advocacy for Florida’s Black communities during a time when such advocacy was ignored at best and actively suppressed or punished at worst.”
When Mr. Hastings announced his cancer diagnosis in January 2019, he wrote that he had considered whether the disease would affect his ability to do his job. But after speaking with doctors, he said, “I have been convinced that this is a battle worth fighting, and my life is defined by fighting battles worth fighting.”
The Congressional Black Caucus said in a statement on Monday that he “never forgot where he came from and continued to fight up until his last breath.”
“Rest well, our dear brother,” the caucus said. “We’ll take it from here.”
A top Senate official ruled on Monday that Democrats could use the fast-track budget reconciliation process for a second time this fiscal year, potentially paving the way for them to move within months to push through President Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan over Republican opposition.
The ruling by the parliamentarian means that Democrats can essentially reopen the budget plan they passed in February and add directives to enact the infrastructure package or other initiatives, shielding them from a filibuster that requires 60 votes to overcome.
They had already used the budget maneuver, which is known as reconciliation, to push through Mr. Biden’s nearly $1.9 trillion stimulus last month without any Republican votes.
But with some Democrats reluctant to dismantle the filibuster, the rest of Mr. Biden’s agenda risks stalling amid Republican objections. With the Senate divided 50-50, Democrats effectively need 10 G.O.P. senators to join them to move forward on nearly any major legislation.
Seeking alternative avenues, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, had argued that the rules permitted the Senate to revisit the budget blueprint, which allowed for passage of the pandemic relief plan, and take at least one more crack at reconciliation before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
Because there was no precedent for doing so, Mr. Schumer asked Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, for guidance. On Monday, she blessed the gambit, according to Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Mr. Schumer.
The ruling “allows Democrats additional tools to improve the lives of Americans if Republican obstruction continues,” Mr. Goodman said in a statement, adding that “some parameters still need to be worked out.”
He said no final decision had been made on legislative strategy for another round of reconciliation this year, but added that her ruling “is an important step forward” in case Democrats decide to use this “key pathway.”
But the plan is sure to undergo rounds of debate and adjustments to woo the necessary support — even among Democrats. On Monday, Senator Joe Manchin III, a centrist Democrat from West Virginia, told a radio host in his home state, Hoppy Kercheval, that “as the bill exists today, it needs to be changed.”
Mr. Manchin said he was against raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, up from 21 percent, and would demand changes be made before voting on the bill.
“If I don’t vote to get on it, it’s not going anywhere,” he said, adding that several other Democrats were against the plan in the current form. “So we’re going to have some leverage here.”
The Biden administration announced Tuesday that the public’s input will be included in an expansive effort to review all existing policies on sex and gender discrimination and violence in schools.
The review, announced by executive order last month, is part of President Biden’s effort to dismantle Trump-era rules on sexual misconduct that afforded greater protections to students accused of assault. On Tuesday, Suzanne B. Goldberg, the acting assistant secretary for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, issued a letter outlining ways for members of the public to include themselves in the process.
According to the letter, the department will hold a public hearing for students, educators and other stakeholders to share “important insights” on “the issue of sexual harassment in school environments, including sexual violence, and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Students and faculty will also be issued questionnaires meant to provide a fuller picture of how the Trump-era rules have impacted schools’ handling of sexual harassment.
Lastly, the department will publish a notice in the Federal Register of its intent to amend existing Title IX regulations, an act that will open up additional opportunities for public comment.
With his efforts to overhaul Title IX, Mr. Biden has waded into an area that is important to him but has been politically charged for more than a decade.
As vice president, Mr. Biden was integral to President Barack Obama’s efforts to overhaul Title IX, which critics in and out of academia said leaned too heavily toward accusers and offered scant protections or due process for students and faculty accused of sexual harassment, assault or other misconduct.
The Trump administration swept those rules aside and delivered the first-ever regulations on sexual misconduct, which many saw as swinging too far the other way, offering the accused too much power through guaranteed court-like tribunals and cross-examination of accusers. The changes have led to a flood of lawsuits from accused students who have successfully claimed sex-based discrimination, a sign that could complicate efforts to undo the Trump-era rules.
It is unclear whether Mr. Biden’s review of all policies under Title IX, a 1972 law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded schools, will return the rules to the Obama administration’s approach or find some middle ground that incorporates lessons from the last two administrations.
The early political and economic debate over President Biden’s $2 trillion American Jobs Plan is being dominated by a philosophical question: What does infrastructure really mean?
Does it encompass the traditional idea of fixing roads, building bridges and financing other tangible projects? Or, in an evolving economy, does it expand to include initiatives like investing in broadband, electric car charging stations and care for older and disabled Americans?
That is the debate shaping up as Republicans attack Mr. Biden’s plan with pie charts and scathing quotes, saying that it allocates only a small fraction of money on “real” infrastructure and that spending to address issues like home care, electric vehicles and even water pipes should not count.
“Even if you stretch the definition of infrastructure some, it’s about 30 percent of the $2.25 trillion they’re talking about spending,” Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“When people think about infrastructure, they’re thinking about roads, bridges, ports and airports,” he added on ABC’s “This Week.”
Mr. Biden pushed back on Monday, saying that after years of calling for infrastructure spending that included power lines, internet cables and other programs beyond transportation, Republicans had narrowed their definition to exclude key components of his plan.
“It’s kind of interesting that when the Republicans put forward an infrastructure plan, they thought everything from broadband to dealing with other things” qualified, the president told reporters on Monday. “Their definition of infrastructure has changed.”
Economists largely agree that infrastructure now means more than just roads and bridges and extends to the building blocks of a modern, high-tech service economy — broadband, for example.
But even some economists who have carefully studied that shift say the Biden plan stretches the limits of what counts.
Edward Glaeser, an economist at Harvard University, is working on a project on infrastructure for the National Bureau of Economic Research that receives funding from the Transportation Department. He said that several provisions in Mr. Biden’s bill might or might not have merit but did not fall into a conventional definition of infrastructure, such as improving the nation’s affordable housing stock and expanding access to care for older and disabled Americans.
“It does a bit of violence to the English language, doesn’t it?” Mr. Glaeser said.
Proponents of considering the bulk of Mr. Biden’s proposals — including roads, bridges, broadband access, support for home health aides and even efforts to bolster labor unions — argue that in the 21st century, anything that helps people work and lead productive or fulfilling lives counts as infrastructure. That includes investments in people, like the creation of high-paying union jobs or raising wages for a home health work force that is dominated by women of color.
“I couldn’t be going to work if I had to take care of my parents,” said Cecilia Rouse, the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. “How is that not infrastructure?”
In promoting President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan, administration officials have exaggerated a projection of its job creation impact.
“The American Jobs Plan is about a generational investment. It’s going to create 19 million jobs,” Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, said on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday.
And Brian Deese, Mr. Biden’s top economic aide, said on Fox News Sunday, “You look at just the analyses we’ve seen this week, Moody’s suggests it would create 19 million jobs. Goldman Sachs is projecting more than 7 percent growth this year if we passed the investment and the corporate tax plan.”
These claims were an inaccurate citation of a projection from Moody’s Analytics. The research firm estimated that the economy would add about 19 million jobs within 10 years if the infrastructure package became law, and 16.3 million within 10 years if it did not pass. In other words, the infrastructure package itself would create approximately 2.7 million jobs — about one-seventh of what Mr. Buttigieg and Mr. Deese claimed.
Other White House officials have offered more accurate renditions of this claim. Mr. Biden himself said last week that the economy overall will create 19 million jobs if the plan passes while Jen Psaki, his press secretary, said Monday that the infrastructure proposal “helps” create 19 million jobs.
Mr. Buttigieg corrected his claim on Monday, telling CNN that he “should be precise about this” and that the infrastructure plan creates 2.7 million more jobs than the baseline scenario.
The global economy is recovering from the coronavirus pandemic faster than previously expected, largely thanks to the strength of the United States, but the International Monetary Fund warned on Tuesday that major challenges remained as the uneven rollout of vaccines threatens to leave developing countries behind.
The I.M.F. said it was upgrading its global growth forecast for the year thanks to vaccinations of hundreds of millions of people, efforts that are expected to help fuel a sharp rebound in economic activity. The international body now expects the global economy to expand by 6 percent this year, up from its previous projection of 5.5 percent, after a contraction of 3.3 percent in 2020.
“Even with high uncertainty about the path of the pandemic, a way out of this health and economic crisis is increasingly visible,” Gita Gopinath, the I.M.F.’s chief economist, said in a statement accompanying the fund’s World Economic Outlook report.
The emergence from the crisis is being led by the wealthiest countries, particularly the United States, where the economy is now projected to expand by 6.4 percent this year. The euro area is expected to expand by 4.4 percent and Japan is forecast to expand by 3.3 percent, according to the I.M.F.
Among the emerging market and developing economies, China and India are expected to lead the way. China’s economy is projected to expand by 8.4 percent and India’s is expected to expand by 12.5 percent.
Ms. Gopinath credited the robust fiscal support that the largest economies have provided for the improved outlook and pointed to the relief effort enacted by the United States. The I.M.F. estimates that the economic fallout from the pandemic could have been three times worse if not for the $16 trillion of worldwide fiscal support.
Despite the rosier outlook, Ms. Gopinath said that the global economy still faced “daunting” challenges.
Low-income countries are facing bigger losses in economic output than advanced economies, reversing gains in poverty reduction. And within advanced economies, low-skilled workers have been hit the hardest and those who lost jobs could find it difficult to replace them.
“Because the crisis has accelerated the transformative forces of digitalization and automation, many of the jobs lost are unlikely to return, requiring worker reallocation across sectors — which often comes with severe earnings penalties,” Ms. Gopinath said.
The I.M.F. cautioned that its projections hinged on the deployment of vaccines and the spread of variants of the virus, which could pose both a public health and economic threat. The fund is also keeping a close eye on interest rates in the United States, which remain at rock-bottom levels but could pose financial risks if the Federal Reserve raises them unexpectedly.
For most Americans, the third stimulus payment, like the first two, arrived as if by magic, landing unprompted in the bank or in the mail.
But it’s not as straightforward for people without a bank account or a mailing address. Or a phone. Or identification.
Just about anyone with a Social Security number who is not someone else’s dependent and who earns less than $75,000 is entitled to the stimulus. But some of the people who would benefit most from the money are having the hardest time getting their hands on it.
“There’s this great intention to lift people out of poverty more and give them support, and all of that’s wonderful,” said Beth Hofmeister, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project. “But the way people have to access it doesn’t really fit with how most really low-income people are interacting with the government.”
Interviews with homeless people in New York City over the last couple of weeks found that some mistakenly assumed they were ineligible for the stimulus. Others said that bureaucratic hurdles, complicated by limited phone or internet access, were insurmountable.
Paradoxically, the very poor are the most likely to pump stimulus money right back into devastated local economies, rather than sock it away in the bank or use it to play the stock market.
“I’d find a permanent place to stay, some food, clothing, a nice shower, a nice bed,” said Richard Rodriguez, 43, waiting for lunch outside the Bowery Mission last month. “I haven’t had a nice bed for a year.”
Mr. Rodriguez said he had made several attempts to file taxes — a necessary step for those not yet in the system — but had given up.
“I went to H&R Block and I told them I was homeless,” he said. “They said they couldn’t help me.”
A battle between state politicians and the large companies that generate jobs and tax revenue shows no signs of slowing after Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas announced a personal protest against Major League Baseball after its decision to move the All-Star Game out of Atlanta.
Corporate America began flexing its muscle after Georgia recently passed election restrictions, with companies including Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, which are headquartered in the state, publicly criticizing the changes. And now politicians are fighting back, at least symbolically.
Mr. Abbott, who is pushing similar election legislation in Texas, said on Monday that he was declining an invitation to throw out a ceremonial first pitch for the Texas Rangers, that the state would no longer pursue the All-Star Game, and that he would cease participating in any M.L.B. events.
“It is shameful that America’s pastime is not only being influenced by partisan political politics, but also perpetuating false political narratives,” the governor, a Republican, said in a letter he sent to the Rangers.
Lawmakers in more than 40 states are pursuing voting laws, with Republicans saying that limiting early voting, absentee balloting and poll watchers are necessary steps to ensure election integrity and Democrats warning that those changes would make it more difficult for people of color to vote.
It is a head-spinning new landscape for big companies, which are trying to appease Democrats focused on social justice, as well as populist Republicans who are suddenly unafraid to break ties with business. Individuals like Gregg Popovich, the Spurs coach who denounced the Texas bills before a game this weekend, are given some leeway to present their personal opinions. But companies are often caught in the middle, facing steep political consequences no matter what they do.
Georgia lawmakers have already voted for new taxes on Delta, and more than 100 other companies have spoken out in defense of voting rights.
“Business leaders are still facing challenges on how to navigate a range of issues, and the elections issue is among the most sensitive,” said Rich Lesser, the chief executive of Boston Consulting Group.
Hours after Mr. Abbott’s announcement, a broad swath of the political leadership throughout Harris County, Texas’ largest Democratic stronghold, criticized the state’s election proposals and called for broader engagement from the business world to help stop the efforts.
“These bills will go through unless we collectively stand up and say no,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston, a former Democratic legislator.
The mayor applauded Major League Baseball’s decision to move the All-Star Game and assailed Mr. Abbott for his public display of disapproval.
“There are a whole lot of people that can throw out that ball,” he said.