Originally Published: 2/10/2018
New Budget: I find it interesting that, since all spending bills must originate in the House, the Senate has been the focal point of cutting a budget deal. And they finally got a deal. While Republicans have promised an end to fiscal recklessness, the deal increases spending by $300 billion over the next 2 years. That’s an additional $300 billion deficit - over and above the additional $1.5 trillion added by the tax cuts. (NY Times) But it sets up another deadline - March 23rd - “giving congressional appropriators time to write a detailed bill doling out funding to government agencies.” (Washington Post) It raises the debt limit (Roll Call) but doesn’t resolve the expiration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. (NY Times) In the Senate, Rand Paul (R, KY) held up the vote to protest the deficits. (CNN) Interesting, isn’t it, that he wasn’t concerned about increasing the deficit $1.5 trillion in order to give rich people and corporations tax cuts. (TWW, The Tax Cut, 1/6/18) Then it went to the House. They couldn’t get it done in time and so the federal government shut down again for the second time in 3 weeks (TWW, Shutdown, 1/27/18) at midnight but reopened less than 6 hours later after the House finally passed it. 73 Democrats voted for it, off-setting the 67 Republicans who wouldn’t. Since the bill doesn’t resolve the expiration of DACA, Dems, including Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), wouldn’t support it. The final vote was 240 to 186, with 167 Republicans and 119 Democrats voting for it. (Roll Call) Trump signed it after he got up in the morning. (NY Times)
What’s in it: The additional $300 bill breaks down to $165 billion for the military but only $131 billion for domestic spending. I don’t know what the other $4 billion is for. (NY Times) There’s also $20 billion to kick-off Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, but Trump claims that the $20 billion will be offset by unspecified spending cuts. “The long-term implications of all this borrowing put the United States on track to ultimately owe more to its creditors than the economy produces over the course of a year.” (NY Times) There’s also $90 billion for disaster relief, $6 billion for the opioid crisis, $5.8 billion for Child Care Development Block Grants, and $2 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) research. It extends 48 different tax credits for 1 year and reauthorizes Community Health Centers for 2 years, but makes “structural changes to Medicare.” It repeals the independent medical advisory board established under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (Sarah Palin’s “death panels”) and creates a new committee on pension solvency. (NY Times) Remember, this is just a broad framework. They will yet have to put together an omnibus spending bill.
Schiff Memo: The House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously to make the “classified” Democratic memo rebutting the Nunes memo (TWW, Nunes Memo, 2/3/18). Trump then had 5 days to review the memo and to decide whether to block its release. (NY Times) Apparently he signed off on its release yesterday saying it would be “released soon,” (Roll Call) but shortly thereafter decided not to release it. Democrats are accusing him of a “cover up.” Trump’s lawyer said that the document couldn’t be made public “because the memorandum contains numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages.” (Roll Call)
Military Parade: If you remember, Trump wanted a full-scale military parade at his inauguration “with tanks, missiles, and missile launchers.” (Talking Points Memo) The Pentagon nixed the idea but, in an interview, he spoke about wanting to hold military parades during his presidency. (Washington Post) He’s now planning one like the one he saw in France for Bastille Day, but this time, as commander-in-chief, he can order it and the Pentagon has to obey. “‘The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,’ said a military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the planning discussions are supposed to remain confidential. ‘This is being worked at the highest levels of the military.’” (Washington Post) The Guardian posted a bunch of photos of military parades from around the world that Trump may want to emulate.
2018 Elections: While everyone is expecting a Democratic victory this fall, Trump is confident it won’t happen. In a private conversation, according to the Washington Post, he “told advisers that he doesn’t think the 2018 election will be as bad as others are predicting. He has referenced the 2002 midterms, when George W. Bush and Republicans fared better after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.” What has he got up his sleeve?
Security Clearances: “Dozens” of White House employees still don’t have permanent security clearances “and have been working for months with temporary approvals to handle sensitive information while the FBI continues to probe their backgrounds.” One of those is the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. “The issue of clearances has become a major area of concern since White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned after allegations surfaced that he had been violent toward his 2 ex-wives.” (Washington Post) Geez. Immigrants are vetted better than this.
Rachel Brand: She’s the 3rd ranking official at the Justice Department - right behind Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein. She resigned to take a job at Walmart. Brand was “hand-picked” for the job by Trump. “After just 9 months on the job, Brand had become more and more uneasy with Trump’s escalating attacks on the Justice Department and the FBI, which she and other law enforcement professionals feared was beginning to undermine the rule of law.” (Reuters)
Paul Ney: He’s Trump’s nominee to be the top lawyer at the Pentagon. He told senators at his confirmation hearing that we need a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) for U.S. forces to remain in Syria after the defeat of ISIS. (District Sentinel) This will screw up Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s plans to stay in Syria forever. (TWW, Syria, 1/20/18)
Ken Isaacs: He’s Trump’s pick for Director General at the UN’s International Organization for Migration, which spends nearly $1 billion a year to assist migrants around the world. He’s a climate science denier who said the “Muslim faith” instructs its followers “to commit violent acts” and that allowing a large number of Syrian refugees into the U.S. is “foolish and delusional” and that “Christians from dangerous areas should often be given preferential resettlement treatment.” (Think Progress)
Kathleen Hartnett White: The White House is withdrawing her nomination to head the Council on Environmental Quality. (TWW, Kathleen Hartnett White, 11/11/17) At her first confirmation hearing in November she upset senators by making “statements about climate change, which go against the scientific consensus that man-made greenhouse gases are the primary driver of rising temperatures.” (CNN)
Saudi Arabia: It’s got a plan to “diversify its economy and reinvigorate growth” by “plowing money into renewable energy.” Prince Mohammed bin Salman “wants not just to reshape its energy mix at home but also to emerge as a global force in clean power.” (NY Times)
Florida: U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled that the state’s policy of “banning felons from voting until they petition the government” is unconstitutional. He wrote: “To vote again, disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s governor has absolute veto authority.” (Reuters)
Illinois: Arthur Jones is the only Republican in the up-coming primary for the congressional seat representing parts of Chicago and nearby suburbs. He’s “an outspoken Holocaust denier, activist anti-Semite, and white supremacist.” (Chicago Sun-Times) He’s also a former leader of the American Nazi Party and has called the Holocaust “an international extortion racket.” (Think Progress)
Kansas: U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree ruled that a Kansas law designed to punish people who boycott Israel is an unconstitutional denial of free speech. (ACLU)
Pennsylvania: The U.S. Supreme Court denied Pennsylvania’s request to halt the redrawing of congressional districts for the coming elections. (TWW, Pennsylvania, 2/3/18) The state must redraw the districts in time for the primary in May. (Roll Call)
Puerto Rico: After the Hurricane tore through the island, 30 million meals needed to be delivered as soon as possible. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded Tiffany C. Brown a $156 million contract for the job. Brown, “an Atlanta entrepreneur with no experience in large-scale disaster relief and at least 5 canceled government contracts in her past,” is the sole owner and employee of her company. She delivered only 50,000 meals. (NY Times)
2016 Election: Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the official “in charge of protecting American elections from hacking,” was interviewed by NBC News. She said she couldn’t talk about classified information publicly, but that “the Russians successfully penetrated the voter registration rolls of several U.S. states prior to the 2016 presidential election.” She said they targeted 21 states but only a small number of them “were actually successfully penetrated.” Did it effect the election? We’ll probably never know.
Scientists: We know that there’s a record number of women running for political offices this year. But now we find that there’s a record-breaking number of scientists, too. “To stand up to climate change deniers and protect science, a wave of candidates from science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) backgrounds are running for local and federal office in 2018.” (Grist)
Sexual Harassment: The House of Representatives adopted new rules to “curb” sexual harassment. “Members are now forbidden to have sexual relationships with their aides.” There also is a new process “for investigating and resolving complaints.” The new rules go into effect immediately. (Roll Call)
Medicaid: Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is attempting to limit the number of months adults have access to Medicaid. The cap, if approved, would be the first of its kind. (McClatchy)
Solar Industry: The National Solar Jobs Census released a report saying that, after years of growth, the solar industry is in contraction. “The report cited concerns over the trade case that eventually led to tariffs on imported solar panels [TWW, Tariffs, 1/27/18] as one possible reason for the decline.” Solar jobs in the U.S. decreased by almost 10,000, a 3.8% reduction. (Inc.)
Tip Pooling: The proposed rule that would make it legal for employers to pocket their workers’ tips (TWW, Tip Pooling, 12/16/17) was not accompanied by an estimate from the Labor Department (DOL) of how much money would be shifted, as is required by the rulemaking process. DOL claimed they could not do an analysis. However, thanks to Bloomberg Law, we now know that they did do an analysis but it was “scrubbed,” “shielding the public from estimates that showed employees could lose out on billions of dollars in gratuities.”
Student Debt: According to a report published by the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, wiping out the $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loans for 44 million Americans could boost GDP by $86 to $108 billion per year for 10 years following the debt cancellation. It would also lower the average unemployment rate by .22% to .36% over those 10 years and could add between 1.2 and 1.5 million jobs per year.
Stock Market: On Monday the Standard & Poor’s 500 fell by more than 4%, “deepening its losses from the previous week [TWW, The Dow, 2/3/18] and erasing its gains for the year.” The Dow Jones “sank by 4.6%.” Bond yields, “the basis for key borrowing costs such as mortgage rates, have risen fast in recent weeks.” Major markets in Asia also plunged, “suggesting the pain could continue.” In Japan, “stocks were down more than 5% in the morning trading, while shares in Hong Kong were down more than 4%.” (NY Times) For the Dow, this represented “the biggest point drop ever.” For the S&P, it was the worst since August 2011, “erasing its gains for the year.” (NY Times) According to Andrew Ross Sorkin, writing at the NY Times: “Investors believe [Trump’s] policies to stoke growth are going to work so well that they will overheat the economy, and force the Federal Reserve to try to slow things down by raising interest rates faster than expected.” He believes we are going into a recession. However, Reuters noted: “Some analysts view the recent selloff . . . as a healthy pullback after a rapid run-up to record highs at the start of the year.” The selloff “dissipated” on Tuesday and the S&P regained about 1.7%. The Dow regained about 2.3%. (NY Times) So, everything is back to normal, right? Not hardly. On Thursday the Dow dropped more than 1,000 points, 4.2%, “as fears deepened over rising interest rates.” (Washington Post) Of course, none of this means anything to most of us. 84% of all stocks are owned by the wealthiest 10% of households, “and that includes everyone’s stakes in pension plans, 401(k)s, and individual retirement accounts, as well as trust funds, mutual funds, and college savings programs like 529 plans.” (NY Times) During the week “$3 trillion in U.S. stock market value” was wiped out, but it rallied late Friday, with the Dow finishing up 330 points and S&P up 38.5 points. (Washington Post) Listen to Stephen Colbert talk about the economy. (You Tube)
Kimberly-Clark: It’s going to use the savings from the tax cut to pay for a restructuring program that includes layoffs. (The Hill)