Archives for category: Biden

Heather Cox Richardson is an American historian at Boston College. I enjoy reading her views, which are always well-informed.

She writes:

December 30, 2021

Heather Cox RichardsonDec 31

On January 6, insurrectionists trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election stormed the U.S. Capitol and sent our lawmakers into hiding. Since President Joe Biden took office on January 20, just two weeks after the attack, we have been engaged in a great struggle between those trying to restore our democracy and those determined to undermine it. 

Biden committed to restoring our democracy after the strains it had endured. When he took office, we were in the midst of a global pandemic whose official death toll in the U.S. was at 407,000. Our economy was in tatters, our foreign alliances weakened, and our government under siege by insurrectionists, some of whom were lawmakers themselves.

In his inaugural address, Biden implored Americans to come together to face these crises. He recalled the Civil War, the Great Depression, the World Wars, and the attacks of 9/11, noting that “[i]n each of these moments, enough of us came together to carry all of us forward.” “It’s time for boldness, for there is so much to do,” he said. He asked Americans to “write an American story of hope, not fear… [a] story that tells ages yet to come that we answered the call of history…. That democracy and hope, truth and justice, did not die on our watch but thrived.”

Later that day, he headed to the Oval Office. “I thought there’s no time to wait. Get to work immediately,” he said.

Rather than permitting the Trump Republicans who were still insisting Trump had won the election to frame the national conversation, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as the Democrats in Congress, ignored them and set out to prove that our government can work for ordinary Americans.

Biden vowed to overcome Covid, trying to rally Republicans to join Democrats behind a “war” on the global pandemic. The Trump team had refused to confer during the transition period with the Biden team, who discovered that the previous administration had never had a plan for federal delivery of covid vaccines, simply planning to give them to the states and then let the cash-strapped states figure out how to get them into arms. “What we’re inheriting is so much worse than we could have imagined,” Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, Jeff Zients, said to reporters on January 21.

Biden immediately invoked the Defense Production Act, bought more vaccines, worked with states to establish vaccine sites and transportation to them, and established vaccine centers in pharmacies across the country. As vaccination rates climbed, he vowed to make sure that 70% of the U.S. adult population would have one vaccine shot and 160 million U.S. adults would be fully vaccinated by July 4th.

At the same time, the Democrats undertook to repair the economy, badly damaged by the pandemic. In March, without a single Republican vote, they passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to jump-start the economy by putting money into the pockets of ordinary Americans. It worked. The new law cut child poverty in half by putting $66 billion into 36 million households. It expanded access to the Affordable Care Act, enabling more than 4.6 million Americans who were not previously insured to get healthcare coverage, bringing the total covered to a record 13.6 million.

As vaccinated people started to venture out again, this support for consumers bolstered U.S. companies, which by the end of the year were showing profit margins higher than they have been since 1950, at 15%. Companies reduced their debt, which translated to a strong stock market. In February, Biden’s first month in office, the jobless rate was 6.2%; by December it had dropped to 4.2%. This means that 4.1 million jobs were created in the Biden administration’s first year, more than were created in the 12 years of the Trump and George W. Bush administrations combined.

In November, Congress passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that will repair bridges and roads and get broadband to places that still don’t have it, and negotiations continue on a larger infrastructure package that will support child care and elder care, as well as education and measures to address climate change.

Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal report that U.S. economic output jumped more than 7% in the last three months of 2021. Overall growth for 2021 should be about 6%, and economists predict growth of around 4% in 2022—the highest numbers the U.S. has seen in decades. China’s growth in the same period will be 4%, and the eurozone (the member countries of the European Union that use the euro) will grow at 2%. The U.S. is “outperforming the world by the biggest margin in the 21st century,” wrote Matthew A. Winkler in Bloomberg, “and with good reason: America’s economy improved more in Joe Biden’s first 12 months than any president during the past 50 years….”

With more experience in foreign affairs than any president since George H. W. Bush, Biden set out to rebuild our strained alliances and modernize the war on terror. On January 20, he took steps to rejoin the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accords, which his predecessor had rejected. Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized that Biden’s leadership team believed foreign and domestic policy to be profoundly linked. They promised to support democracy at home and abroad to combat the authoritarianism rising around the world.

“The more we and other democracies can show the world that we can deliver, not only for our people, but also for each other, the more we can refute the lie that authoritarian countries love to tell, that theirs is the better way to meet people’s fundamental needs and hopes. It’s on us to prove them wrong,” Blinken said.

Biden and Blinken increased the use of sanctions against those suspected of funding terrorism. Declaring it vital to national security to stop corruption in order to prevent illicit money from undermining democracies, Biden convened a Summit for Democracy, where leaders from more than 110 countries discussed how best to combat authoritarianism and corruption, and to protect human rights.

Biden began to shift American foreign policy most noticeably by withdrawing from the nation’s twenty-year war in Afghanistan. He inherited the previous president’s February 2020 deal with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, so long as the Taliban did not kill any more Americans. By the time Biden took office, the U.S. had withdrawn all but 2500 troops from the country.

He could either go back on Trump’s agreement—meaning the Taliban would again begin attacking U.S. service people, forcing the U.S. to pour in troops and sustain casualties—or get out of what had become a meandering, expensive, unpopular war, one that Biden himself had wanted to leave since the Obama administration.

In April, Biden said he would honor the agreement he had inherited from Trump, beginning, not ending, the troop withdrawal on May 1. He said he would have everyone out by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks that took us there in the first place. (He later adjusted that to August 31.) He promised to evacuate the country “responsibly, deliberately, and safely” and assured Americans that the U.S. had “trained and equipped a standing force of over 300,000 Afghan personnel” who would “continue to fight valiantly, on behalf of the Afghans, at great cost.”

Instead, the Afghan army crumbled as the U.S began to pull its remaining troops out in July. By mid-August, the Taliban had taken control of the capital, Kabul, and the leaders of the Afghan government fled, abandoning the country to chaos. People rushed to the airport to escape and seven Afghans died, either crushed in the crowds or killed when they fell from planes to which they had clung in hopes of getting out. Then, on August 26, two explosions outside the Kabul airport killed at least 60 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. troops. More than 100 Afghans and 15 U.S. service members were wounded.

In the aftermath, the U.S. military conducted the largest human airlift in U.S. history, moving more than 100,000 people without further casualties, and on August 30, Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, boarded a cargo plane at Kabul airport, and the U.S. war in Afghanistan was over. (Evacuations have continued on planes chartered by other countries.)

With the end of that war, Biden has focused on using financial pressure and alliances rather than military might to achieve foreign policy goals. He has worked with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies to counter increasing aggression from Russian president Vladimir Putin, strengthening NATO, while suggesting publicly that further Russian incursions into Ukraine will have serious financial repercussions.

In any ordinary time, Biden’s demonstration that democracy can work for ordinary people in three major areas would have been an astonishing success.

But these are not ordinary times.

Biden and the Democrats have had to face an opposition that is working to undermine the government. Even after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, 147 Republican members of Congress voted to challenge at least one of the certified state electoral votes, propping up the Big Lie that Trump won the 2020 presidential election. Many of them continue to plug that lie, convincing 68% of Republicans that Biden is an illegitimate president.

This lie has justified the passage in 19 Republican-dominated states of 33 new laws to suppress voting or to take the counting of votes out of the hands of non-partisan officials altogether and turn that process over to Republicans.

Republicans have stoked opposition to the Democrats by feeding the culture wars, skipping negotiations on the American Rescue Plan, for example, to complain that the toymaker Hasbro was introducing a gender-neutral Potato Head toy, and that the estate of Dr. Seuss was ceasing publication of some of his lesser-known books that bore racist pictures or themes. They created a firestorm over Critical Race Theory, an advanced legal theory, insisting that it, and the teaching of issues of race in the schools, was teaching white children to hate themselves.

Most notably, though, as Biden’s coronavirus vaccination program appeared to be meeting his ambitious goals, Republicans suggested that government vaccine outreach was overreach, pushing the government into people’s lives. Vaccination rates began to drop off, and Biden’s July 4 goal went unmet just as the more contagious Delta variant began to rage across the country.

In July, Biden required federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated; in November, the administration said that workers at businesses with more than 100 employees and health care workers must be vaccinated or frequently tested.

Rejecting the vaccine became a badge of opposition to the Biden administration. By early December, fewer than 10% of adult Democrats were unvaccinated, compared with 40% of Republicans. This means that Republicans are three times more likely than Democrats to die of Covid, and as the new Omicron variant rages across the country, Republicans are blaming Biden for not stopping the pandemic. Covid has now killed more than 800,000 Americans.

While Biden and the Democrats have made many missteps this year—missing that the Afghan government would collapse, hitting an Afghan family in a drone strike, underplaying Covid testing, prioritizing infrastructure over voting rights—the Democrats’ biggest miscalculation might well be refusing to address the disinformation of the Republicans directly in order to promote bipartisanship and move the country forward together.

With the lies of Trump Republicans largely unchallenged by Democratic lawmakers or the media, Republicans have swung almost entirely into the Trump camp. The former president has worked to purge from the state and national party anyone he considers insufficiently loyal to him, and his closest supporters have become so extreme that they are openly supporting authoritarianism and talking of Democrats as “vermin.”

Some are talking about a “national divorce,” which observers have interpreted as a call for secession, like the Confederates tried in 1860. But in fact, Trump Republicans do not want to form their own country. Rather, they want to cement minority rule in this one, keeping themselves in power over the will of the majority.

It seems that in some ways we are ending 2021 as we began it. Although Biden and the Democrats have indeed demonstrated that our government, properly run, can work for the people to combat a deadly pandemic, create a booming economy, and stop unpopular wars, that same authoritarian minority that tried to overturn the 2020 election on January 6 is more deeply entrenched than it was a year ago.

And yet, as we move into 2022, the ground is shifting. The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol is starting to show what it has learned from the testimony of more than 300 witnesses and a review of more than 35,000 documents. The fact that those closest to Trump are refusing to testify suggests that the hearings in the new year will be compelling and will help people to understand just how close we came to an authoritarian takeover last January.

And then, as soon as the Senate resumes work in the new year, it will take up measures to restore the voting rights and election integrity Republican legislatures have stripped away, giving back to the people the power to guard against such an authoritarian coup happening again.

It looks like 2022 is going to be a choppy ride, but its outcome is in our hands. As Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), who was beaten almost to death in his quest to protect the right to vote, wrote to us when he passed: “Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part.”

Notes:

https://khn.org/morning-breakout/covid-deaths-skew-higher-than-ever-in-red-states/

The “vermin” and “national divorce” quotations are tweets from Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) but I didn’t want to spread them on social media. They were retweeted by several other Republicans.

At the beginning of December, Jan Resseger wrote about why President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda is so important. At the moment, it’s prospects are dim,due to theintransigenceofSenator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Senator Manchin drives a Maserati and owns a yacht, but his state is very poor and needs the help that Build Back Better offers.

Jan Resseger describes the hoary English tradition—which we inherited—of expecting the poor to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. This is apparently what Senator Manchin believes in, as he fears that the poor will become “spoiled” by too much government help.

She writes:

Right now, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Build Back Better Bill which represents a radically different philosophy: President Biden’s commitment to helping children whose families live in poverty instead of punishing their parents. The U.S. Senate is negotiating its version, which many hope to see passed by the end of 2021.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains why a single reform in the Child Tax Credit—making it fully refundable for families with very low income—is for America’s children the most important element in Build Back Better: “Making the full Child Tax Credit available for families with low or no earnings in a year, often called making it ‘fully refundable,’ is expected to generate historic reductions in child poverty compared to what it would have been otherwise. Before the Rescue Plan made the full Child Tax credit fully available in 2021, 27 million children in families with low or no income in a year received less than the full credit or no credit at all.” In the American Rescue relief bill last spring, Congress made three significant changes in the Child Tax Credit: raising the maximum Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,600 per child through age 5, and $3,000 for children age 6-17; allowing families to receive a Child Tax Credit for 17-year-olds; and making the Child Tax Credit fully refundable for the year 2021. The House version of the Build Back Better Bill extends the first two provisions only through 2022, but the House version permanently makes the Child Tax Credit fully refundable:

“In the absence of the full refundability provision, the first two of those changes would lift an estimated 543,000 children above the poverty line, reducing the child poverty rate by 5 percent… But the two changes plus full refundability stand to raise 4.1 million children above the poverty line and cut the child poverty rate by more than 40 percent. In other words, the full refundability feature makes the expansion nearly eight times as effective in reducing child poverty.” “Until last spring’s COVID relief bill, many children had been excluded because “their families’ incomes were too low. That included roughly half of all Black and Latino children and half of children who live in rural communities… This upside-down policy gave less help to the children who needed it most. The (COVID) Rescue Plan temporarily fixed this policy by making the tax credit fully refundable for 2021. Build Back Better, in one of its signature achievements, would make this policy advance permanent.” (emphasis in the original)

In a new report last Friday, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities warnsabout what we can expect if the U.S. Senate fails to pass the Build Back Better Bill by the end of December, 2021 and allows to expire the reforms instituted temporarily for this year alone in last spring’s American Rescue Plan: “If Build Back Better isn’t enacted, the Child Tax Credit would revert to providing the least help to the children who need it most — and some 27 million children would once again get a partial credit or none at all because their families’ incomes are too low.”

The First Focus for Children Campaign outlines other urgently needed reforms included in the House version of the Build Back Better Bill: “The Children’s Health Insurance Program, CHIP, which covers roughly 10 million children would be made permanent, sparing it from serial expiration every few years.” The bill would also require states to make children’s eligibility continuous over all 12 months for CHIP and Medicaid; would guarantee 12 months (instead of 60-days) of postpartum coverage for mothers on Medicaid; and would provide 4-weeks of paid leave for new parents and expand family leave. Build Back Better would significantly expand access to quality child care and phase in universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds. For young adults aging out of foster care, the law would lower the age of eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit from 25 to 18. The bill would also address hunger among children by making meals available during the summer months when school is not in session.

None of these programs directly invests in public education, but together they will improve educational opportunity. Why? We know that a family’s economic circumstances affect children’s opportunity at school. Recently this blog covered a new report that 101,000 students in the New York City Public Schools—10 percent of the district’s students—were homeless in the past year. Decades of research show that such challenges directly affect such students’ experiences at school.

I somehow missed a story that appeared in Education Week last February, identifying the background of Biden appointees to the U.S. Department of Education. What is interesting about the story, aside from knowing who the appointees are, is what is not said about DFER, the hedge-fund managers’ lobby for charter schools and high-stakes teachers’ evaluation, and Chiefs for Change, founded by Jeb Bush to promote privatization and high-stakes testing.

Andrew Ujifusa wrote:

The latest round of political appointees to the U.S. Department of Education include a veteran of Capitol Hill and Beltway education groups, the former leader of Democrats for Education Reform’s District of Columbia affiliate, and two former Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation staffers

Jessica Cardichon, deputy assistant secretary, office of planning, evaluation, and policy development. Cardichon is an education policy veteran in Washington. She comes to the Education Department from the Learning Policy Institute, a K-12 policy and research group founded and led by Linda Darling-Hammond, who led Biden’s transition team for the department. Cardichon was the group’s federal policy director. While at LPI, Cardichon contributed to reports about COVID-19 relief, how to “reimagine schooling,” and student access to certified teachers. 

She’s also worked as education counsel to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on the Senate education committee; the Alliance for Excellent Education, a research and advocacy group, and at Teachers College, Columbia University. A long-time ally of teachers’ unions and a critic of standardized testing, Sanders has taken on a big role in the Senate during the creation of a new COVID-19 relief package.

I was invited to serve on the federal policy transition team, which Cardichon chaired. The members were asked to offer recommendations for Biden for Day 1, Day 100, and One Year. I proposed that Biden announce two changes: 1) a halt in the annual mandated standardized testing; 2) a revision of the Every Student Succeeds Act to make the ban on federally mandated annual testing of every child permanent; 3) a halt in the funding of the federal Charter Schools Program, which spends $440 million every year to fund charters, almost 40% of which either never open or close soon after opening. Cardichon offered no support for any of these proposals. They were never discussed by the committee. After being stonewalled repeatedly, I resigned from the committee. Not surprisingly, none of those three recommendations has been on the Biden agenda.

Ramin Taheri, chief of staff, office for civil rights. Taheri comes to the department after serving as the District of Columbia chapter director of Democrats for Education Reform, a group that promotes charter schools, K-12 education funding, test-based teacher and school accountability, and other policies. The group divides opinion in the left-leaning K-12 policy space. Some have championed the group for focusing on issues they say will better served students of color and disadvantaged learners, while other claim DFER undermines teachers’ unions and traditional public schools. News that DFER was backing certain big-city superintendents to be Biden’s education secretary provoked pushback from union supporters and others skeptical of DFER. (Cardona was not on DFER’s list of preferred choices.) Taheri has also worked at Chiefs for Change, a group of district superintendents that provokes similar, if not identical, political sentiments.

Ujifusa does not explain that DFER was created by hedge-funders who are passionate about charter schools, high-stakes teacher evaluations, merit pay, and union-busting. Nor does he mention that Chiefs for Change is a rightwing group founded by Jeb Bush to promote the Florida “model” of privatization and high-stakes testing. The agenda of DFER and Chiefs for Change is not centrist; it is rightwing.

Nick Lee, deputy assistant secretary, office of planning, evaluation, and policy development; Sara Garcia, special assistant, office of planning, evaluation, and policy development. Both Lee and Garcia come to the department from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where Lee was a senior program officer and Garcia was a program officer....

The Gates Foundation has had a long, complex, and controversial involvement in education policy. For many years, it focused its considerable grant-making power on teacher effectiveness, teacher-performance systems, and support for the Common Core State Standards; by 2015, the foundation estimated it had put $900 million in grants toward teacher policy and programs. Previously, it had focused on supporting small high schools. These efforts became more politically controversial over time. 

Supporters have applauded its focus on educators and improving instruction, while critics say its outsized influence has had a detrimental effect on policymakers. A 2018 study of one of its biggest teacher-effectiveness efforts in three districts showed no gains for students.

A few years back, a reporter at Education Week wrote an article about the outsized role of the Gates Foundation in shaping federal education policy; the reporter said it was almost impossible to find anyone to criticize the foundation’s role because almost every organization in D.C. was funded by Gates.

He begins:

Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect, assesses the role of Senator Manchin in sinking President Biden’s signature legislation. Manchin surely sunk his constituents: West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the nation. He says he was worried about the cost, especially the cost of lifting children out of poverty. But economists lowered their estimates of economic growth for 2022 after Manchin said no, and the stock market tumbled. What a guy.

Kuttner writes:

You can understand the pent-up rage and frustration. With his yacht and his Maserati, his fake concern for the suffering people of West Virginia, his bad economics and his penchant for moving the goalposts, Joe Manchin III is a first-class phony.

But that doesn’t make rage smart politics. And there is another unfortunate R-word at play this week in Bidenland—recriminations.

Let’s see, who screwed up? Was it Biden for not just taking the $1.75 trillion deal when Manchin made his bargain with Chuck Schumer in July? (Except that Manchin left himself some wiggle room.)

Was it Biden for not shelving Build Back Better in favor of making voting rights legislation the top priority? (Except that Manchin is almost certain to screw his fellow Democrats on this, too.)

Did the Progressive Caucus overplay its hand? Did Pelosi mess up the very complex bargain between progressives and corporate Dems over the bipartisan infrastructure deal? Was it a mistake to whip the House Democrats to pass Build Back Better at $2.2 trillion in the hope of then giving up some of it to Manchin?

Jeezus, give these people a break. They have been dealt a really lousy hand, and Manchin has all the cards.

Jan Resseger, one of our best informed bloggers and social justice advocates, lauds President Biden’s Build Back Better program for its benefits for children. It would end decades of policies that punish poor children. Our nation has dramatically reduced poverty among the elderly, but neglected our children.

She writes:

The U.S. House of Representatives finally passed President Biden’s infrastructure plan last Friday. The Senate passed it a while ago, and the bill is headed to Biden’s desk for signature.  At the same time, Democrats in the U. S. House of Representatives pledged that if the Congressional Budget Office confirms cost estimates for the Build Back Better Bill, Democrats in the House will pass the current version of the plan and send it on to the Senate for consideration. For months, Congress has been debating the programs that are part of this plan, and even if Congress passes it, it won’t be perfect.

Even if imperfect, however, the Build Back Better Bill in its current form would signify a truly revolutionary investment in America’s children. That is because the United States has, for decades, utterly failed to use government to begin to eradicate a morally reprehensible level of childhood economic inequality.

Cara Baldari of the First Focus Campaign for Children explains: “For the first time in generations, we are on the precipice of making serious and long-term progress to reduce our stubbornly high rate of child poverty in the United States. Historically, the United States has had a significantly higher rate of child poverty than other developed countries because we have continually failed to sufficiently invest in our children. While the establishment of Social Security has permanently reduced poverty for seniors, children have remained the poorest group in America. This situation is not due to a lack of evidence on what works to reduce child poverty, but rather the lack of political will to act.”

Since 1997, families who earn enough income to pay federal income taxes have benefited from a tax credit for each child. Last spring’s American Rescue Plan Covid-relief bill made the full Child Tax Credit available to children in families with low earnings or without income, and it increased the credit’s maximum amount—$2,000 per-child last year— to $3,000 per child and $3,600 for children under age 6—but only through the end of 2021. Without the extension of this reform, many children will fall back into deep poverty in 2022.

Balderi presents some recent history: In 2015, advocates for children “worked with Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) to secure federal funding for the landmark National Academy of Sciences study, A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, which was published in 2019. This study, written by a committee of experts… confirmed that… providing families with flexible cash assistance through a monthly child allowance was the most effective way to combat child poverty, reduce racial-economic inequality, and improve children’s long-term outcomes.”  In a tragic irony, until this year families without income or with income so low they payed little in federal income taxes could not receive the full tax credit, while middle class and even wealthy parents could receive the full credit, thereby reducing their federal income tax.

Last week the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities examined several provisions of the Build Back Better Bill which will, if the law is passed in its current draft form, reduce racial disparities.  The brief leads with the Bill’s provision to reduce child poverty by extending last spring’s expansion of the Child Tax Credit: “Build Back Better extends the American Rescue Plan’s expansion of the Child Tax Credit for 2022, which is expected to lift 4 million children above the poverty line and narrow the difference between poverty rates for Black and white children by 44 percent (compared to what the rates would be otherwise) and to narrow the difference between the poverty rates for Latino and white children by 41 percent.  Build Back Better also permanently ensures that the full Child Tax Credit is available to children in families with low or no earnings in a year.This is particularly important for Black and Latino children, about half of whom received a partial credit or no credit at all before the Rescue Plan expansion because their families’ incomes were too low, compared to about 20 percent of white children.”

In late October, a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Senior Research Analyst, Claire Zippel reported data collected from late July through September by the U.S. Census’s Household Pulse Survey. These data documented that, “Some 91 percent of families with low incomes (less than $35,000) are using their monthly Child Tax Credit payments for the most basic household expenses—food, clothing, shelter, and utilities—or education… Many of these households are receiving the full Child Tax Credit for the first time thanks to the American Rescue Plan’s credit expansion. The Rescue Plan temporarily increased the credit amount, provided for the credit to be paid monthly rather than once a year at tax time, and halted a policy that prevented 27 million children from receiving the full credit because their parents earned too little or lacked earnings in a given year.”

How did parents use the money?  Zippel continues: “Among households with incomes below $35,000 who received the Child Tax Credit, 88 percent spent their payments on the most basic needs: food, clothing, rent, a mortgage, or utility bills.  The Child Tax Credit payments also helped many parents and other caregivers invest in their children’s education, Pulse data suggest. Some 40 percent of families with low incomes used their Child Tax Credit payments to cover education costs such as school books and supplies, tuition, after-school programs, and transportation to and from school. (In some cases, these expenses may be for adults’ own education. About 5 percent of adults in low-income households with children are enrolled in school, other Census data show.)

The NY Times’ Claire Cain Miller adds that in its current form in the U.S. House of Representatives: “The Build Back Better Bill also includes extensive investment in pre-Kindergarten for 3 and 4-year-olds and assistance for parents to afford childcare as well as dollars to ensure that “teachers in child care classrooms be paid a livable wage, equivalent to that of elementary teachers with the same credentials… Also as part of the proposal, pre-K lead teachers must have a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related field, though they would be given six years to get the degree with some exemptions based on professional experience.”

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman strongly endorses these and other proposals to help families and their children: “Democrats may—may—finally be about to agree on a revenue and spending plan. It will clearly be smaller than President Biden’s original proposal, and much smaller than what progressives wanted. It will, however, be infinitely bigger than what Republicans would have done, because if the G.O.P. controlled Congress, we would be doing nothing at all to invest in America’s future. But what will the plan do?  Far too much reporting has focused mainly on the headline spending number.”

Krugman continues: “So let me propose a one-liner: Tax the rich, help America’s children.  This gets at much of what the legislation is likely to do. Reporting suggests that the final bill will include taxes on billionaires’ incomes and minimum taxes for corporations, along with a number of child-oriented programs.”

Krugman, the economist, comments on the economic arguments for Congressional passage of this bill: “(T)here is overwhelming evidence that helping children, in addition to being the right thing to do, has big economic payoffs. Children who benefited from safety-net programs like food stamps became healthier, more productive adults. Children who were enrolled in pre-K education were more likely to graduate from high school and go to college…. As I’ve argued in the past, the economic case for investing in children is even stronger than the case for investing in physical infrastructure.”

Krugman also believes that President Biden’s Build Back Better Bill, philosophically conforms to American political tradition: “Remember, we are the nation that basically invented universal education… America led the way in creating ‘common schools’ that were meant to include students from all social classes, and were justified by many of the same arguments now being made for universal pre-K and other forms of aid to children. So when Republicans denounce pro-child policies as socialist and try to promote private schools, they, not Democrats, are rejecting our nation’s traditions.”

This article by Ed Montini in the Arizona Republic explains the childish behavior of Republican leaders, who engage in taunts instead of reasoned discourse about their agenda. They don’t want to expand Medicare. They don’t want universal pre-K. They don’t support efforts to combat climate change. They oppose paid family leave for families in need after surgery or childhood. They are against a federal guarantee of two years tuition-free community college. They oppose higher taxes on billionaires. They don’t care about voting rights. They don’t want to expand opportunity. They don’t want to reduce inequality. They don’t invest in the future.

What are they for? Tax breaks for the rich.

Since they have no agenda, their goal is to make sure Biden can’t succeed. After blocking everything he proposes (with the help of Senator Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Krysten Sinema), they have nothing to offer other than the schoolyard chant.

Ed Mancini was walking his dog early one morning, and he saw two other dog owners engage in conversation, a man and a woman. As they part ways, the man says to the woman, “Let’s go, Brandon!” then turning away.

The woman is puzzled and asks Montini if he knows what that phrase means.

So, first thing in the morning I am called upon to explain this recent cultural phenomenon to one of the few American grown-ups who has managed to remain a fully functioning adult, while most of the rest of us have been transformed by social media into crude, smart-alecky 8-year-olds.

There’s that Southwest Airlines pilot

This particular sign was a the Boston College-Syracuse football game Oct. 30. A fan’s juvenile jab at President Joe Biden.Joshua Bessex

For instance, the woman had not heard about the Southwest Airlines pilot who recently signed off on a flight, telling passengers, “Let’s go, Brandon.”

Or about how the whole thing began when a race car driver named Brandon Brown won a NASCAR race and, while being interviewed on TV, the crowd started chanting, “F–k Joe Biden.” The flummoxed interviewer suggested they might be saying, “Let’s go, Brandon.”

After that, the phrase became a way for grown-up 8-year-olds to say the f-word about Biden without actually using it.

Really.

Elected Republican politicians in Washington, D.C., started using the phrase.

Donald Trump began selling “Let’s go Brandon” T-shirts through his Save America PAC for $45, and grown-up 8-year-olds in America actually purchased them.

$45.

There are adults who channel their 8-year-old selves by bringing signs saying, “Let’s go, Brandon” to public events, as well as some who scribble the message in paint on the rear window of their automobiles….

How to answer someone who says such a thing

Of course, we all learned as children that infantile behavior tends to draw some type of backlash….

After I explain the whole “Let’s go, Brandon” thing to the woman who’d been walking her dog she says, “That seems incredibly childish. How are you supposed to answer someone who says such a thing?”

I tell her that, as a grown-up, she would be best served simply ignoring it.

As for the rest of us, suffering as we do from social-media-induced age regression, I’d respond, “I’m rubber and you’re glue …”

Reach Montini at ed.montini@arizonarepublic.com.

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After months of negotiations among Democrats over the fate of President Biden’s historic $3.5 trillion proposal, a compromise seems to have been reached (although nothing is certain). At the insistence of Democratic Senators Manchin and Sinema, the size of the ambitious plan has been cut in half. Many of its parts were cut away, including two years of free community college and 12 weeks of paid family leave for medical reasons (the U.S. is the only major nation that doesn’t provide it). Three Democratic members of the House killed the provision to lower prescription drugs. And of course the Republicans opposed everything.

This is how Harold Meyerson of The American Prospect described it.

World’s Biggest Half-Full, Half-Empty Glass

Biden’s bill is historically great and bitterly disappointing.


Well—had we not anticipated, had it never seemed, that the Democrats, having won control of Congress and the White House, would proceed to enact paid family leave, expansions of Medicare, a permanent Child Tax Credit, disincentives to fossil fuel use, the ability to negotiate down drug prices, and such—had we not counted on that, then today would be a day of unmitigated celebration. Instead, celebration of the groundbreaking social provisions that actually are in the bill President Biden outlined today—universal pre-K, child care subsidies, incentives for clean energy, commonsense tax reforms that will compel corporations to pay some taxes, and the like—has to be mitigated by the fate of the even more commonsense provisions that now lie on the cutting-room floor.

For me, the most absurd relegation to that floor has been killing the proposal to give Medicare the ability to bring down drug prices. Seldom is a serious change to social and economic policy backed by more than three-fourths of the public, but this one surely was. Reportedly, President Biden has persuaded Kyrsten Sinema to accept a deal so preposterously weak—one that enables Medicare to negotiate down the price of drugs whose patents have expired (that is, after the big drug companies have wrung out the lion’s share of profits on those drugs, and which simply incentivizes those companies to extend their patents)—that few Democrats on the Hill seem inclined to vote for it. (Its merits are so nonexistent that the provision was omitted from Biden’s bill.)

By opposing giving Medicare the capacity to stop Big Pharma from charging Americans vastly more for their medications than they charge the citizens of any other nation, Sinema and three House Democrats effectively killed the one provision of the proposed $3.5 trillion package that would have most reduced the cost of living, significantly slowed the pace of inflation, and quite possibly moved more swing votes into the Democrats’ column than any other.

Leading the resistance to this measure in the House was Scott Peters, the California Democrat whose North San Diego County district includes many of the biotech companies that reap fortunes from high drug prices. While Sinema and the two other House Democrats who joined with Peters can likely be successfully primaried, the economy of Peters’s district is so dependent on high drug prices that he might well survive such a challenge…

One provision of the PRO Act—which, taken as a whole, would have been a new Magna Carta for American workers—has made it into Biden’s bill. The provision requires employers to pay fines ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 when they commit unfair labor practices, such as firing employees for their pro-union activities. Under current law, there are effectively no penalties assessed on employers when they’re found guilty of such practices. By excluding the more fundamental provisions of the PRO Act from Biden’s bill, chiefly because they don’t fit under rules of reconciliation, the employer-employee playing field remains steeply tilted toward employers, but if these fines pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian (an open question), they do reduce that tilt by a decidedly modest margin.

As befits a half-empty, if also half-full, glass.


~ HAROLD MEYERSON

Harold Meyerson of The American Prospect warns that Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Krysten Sinema of Arizona threaten the fate of their party in 2022 by their stubborn opposition to President Biden’s ambitious $3.5 trillion budget plan (over ten years). In addition to rebuilding the nation’s highways, bridges, tunnels, and other parts of its essential infrastructure, Biden wants to lessen the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and combat climate change. His proposal would expand Medicare and Medicare and lower the cost of prescription drugs. It would provide child care credits that would lift millions out of poverty. The plan would make two years of community college free. Republicans oppose everything in his plan, even though it would bring economic relief and jobs to their constituents. Manchin and Sinema have forced their party to drop major parts of the plan and have thus far opposed raising revenue to fund it.

Meyerson writes:

I’m not aware of any poll that has asked the question “Do you think President Biden is being jerked around by two senators?” but I think a large number of Americans, if asked, would answer that in the affirmative. Of course, it’s not just Biden but the entire Democratic Party, root and branch, that’s being jerked around by Sens. Manchin and Sinema—and it’s the entire Democratic Party that will likely pay a price for this in next year’s midterm elections.

We’ve been here before. During the initial two years of his presidency, Barack Obama engaged in what seemed at the time like an endless succession of negotiations with Republicans and centrist Democratic senators over his proposed Affordable Care Act. In the end, the Republicans flatly rejected it in any way, shape, or form, but perhaps even more nettlesome was the determination on the part of two Democratic senators in particular—Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus of Montana and Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman—to pare back the bill. And pared it was, with Obama and his fellow Democrats forced to bow to Baucus and Lieberman’s demand to scuttle the establishment of a public option that could compete with profit-driven, coverage-denying private health insurance corporations.

As I’ve written in the current print issue of the Prospect, time plays a crucial role in the public’s assessment of elected officials and their programs. A program that’s slow to roll out and slow to deliver its benefits to the public doesn’t usually benefit its authors in the election following its enactment. Similarly, a president who proclaims a bold program, only to spend months being compelled to hack away at it due to the obstinate resistance of a handful of legislators who have the upper hand in the proceedings, doesn’t emerge unscathed from that process. Obama surely didn’t, though his inability to persuade some nominally Democratic renegades to support the public good over their insurance industry donors was only one reason why the Democrats bombed in the 2010 midterms, losing both houses of Congress in the process.

My concern is that Joe Biden is trapped in the same dynamic that plagued Obama, with his polling dropping precipitously as the two Democratic renegades, similarly more in the sway of donors (and innumerate economics) than the public interest, are prevailing over the president and the rest of the party in paring back a long-overdue shift to bolstering the fortunes of most Americans. Indeed, Biden has publicly stated that with only 50 Democrats in the Senate, just one senator—or in this case, two—effectively has presidential powers. What with Manchin compelling his fellow Democrats to halve their proposals (or, if he won’t budge from $1.5 trillion, cut them to three-sevenths), and Sinema rejecting an increase to tax rates on the wealthy and corporations, they’ve clearly diminished the appearance and actuality of Biden’s power, whether that’s their intention or not.

To be sure, there are other factors behind the erosion of Biden’s public support, as there was with Obama’s, and there’s a distinct possibility that when the infrastructure and Build Back Better bills are finally passed, and their programs promptly (one hopes) implemented, Biden will rebound. But just as Baucus and Lieberman played a role in dragging Obama down and giving the Congress over to the Republicans, so Manchin and Sinema seem poised to have a kindred effect over the fortunes of Biden and their congressional colleagues.

Sometimes, tragedy repeats itself as tragedy. 

Anand Giridharadas interviewed Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who is sponsoring a ”billionaires’ tax,” which would tax assets, not just income. This tax on the growth in their assets would affect between 600-700 billionaires. The revenue from the billionaires’ tax would pay for a large part of President Biden’s proposed budget plan. Two members of the Democratic Party—Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona—have blocked the bill, objecting to its cost and to raising taxes to pay for it. Republicans will unanimously oppose it, so Biden can’t afford to lose even one vote. The discussion has gone on for months, and the Republicans hope to stall and stall, then win enough seats a year from now to destroy Biden’s plans and his presidency.

In another interview, Anand talks with Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman, who explains how the wealth tax would work. In a fascinating overview, he says the tax would affect fewer than 1,000 people: it’s the most progressive tax possible, targeted at the tippy top. It’s also technically different from a wealth tax in that it does not tax wealth itself, but the increase in wealth — what economists call unrealized capital gains.

To get an idea of who will pay the tax, scan Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index. Elon Musk is #1, with more than $200 billion. Jeff Bezos is #2.

If The.Ink interviews are behind a paywall, you should subscribe. Anand is consistently interesting.

ANAND: Is the wealth tax on? Is this in the final package? Is this thing happening?

SENATOR WYDEN: We’re pulling out all the stops. Tonight we’re going to start talking about it in more detail. I have been unable to see even one senator getting up and actually saying, “Gee, I think it’s OK that billionaires are not paying any taxes for years on end.”

What the opponents are trying to do, because they aren’t willing to get up and actually act like they’re sympathetic to billionaires, they’re running the old FUD strategy — fear, uncertainty and doubt. If you can just throw enough FUD at it, then senators say, “Oh, gee, I really don’t know.”

ANAND: I’m hearing from a lot of people that Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have resisted even modest tax increases on corporations and rich people, that they’re with you on this. I’m curious: How did they get behind an unprecedented and historic wealth tax instead of relatively more modest ideas?

SENATOR WYDEN: Well, first of all, we’re calling this the “billionaires’ income tax,” so that people know that billionaires should pay taxes every year, just the way nurses and firefighters are.

All of the members are still making up their minds and saying we want to know more information about this and that, but around here, everything is always impossible until 15 minutes before it comes together — and particularly when you’re taking on such enormous, concentrated power. Billionaires know lots and lots of United States senators.

Editor’s Note (me): After Anand published this interview, and after Senator Wyden released his bill, Senator Manchin said he was not likely to support it because it targets such a small and specific number of people. It’s “divisive,” he said, to single out billionaires. When you don’t want to do something (like tax billionaires), any excuse will do.

President Biden announced that the U.S. Department of Education will take legal action against the eight states that do not permit school districts to require students and staff to wear masks. In so doing, these states put students at risk and violate their right to education.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Erica L. Green wrote in the New York Times:

President Biden, escalating his fight with Republican governors who are blocking local school districts from requiring masks to protect against the coronavirus, said Wednesday that his Education Department would use its broad powers — including taking possible legal action — to deter states from barring universal masking in classrooms.

Mr. Biden said he had directed Miguel Cardona, his education secretary, “to take additional steps to protect our children,” including against governors who he said are “setting a dangerous tone” in issuing executive orders banning mask mandates and threatening to penalize school officials who defy them.

“Unfortunately, as you’ve seen throughout this pandemic, some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures — that is, children wearing masks in school — into political disputes for their own political gain,” Mr. Biden said in remarks from the East Room of the White House, adding, “We are not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children.”

Valerie Strauss wrote in the Washington Post about Biden’s announcement:

He did not name any specific governor, but Republican governors Ron DeSantis of Florida, Greg Abbott of Texas and Doug Ducey of Arizona, are among those state leaders who have threatened to withhold funding from districts or take other action against those districts that defy them. In Florida, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the fourth largest district in the country, on Wednesday passed a universal masking mandate — with only a medical opt-out — as did Hillsborough County Public Schools.

“I’m directing the secretary of education to take additional steps to protect our children,” Biden said. “This includes using all of his oversight authorities and legal action if appropriate against governors who are trying to block and intimidate local schools officials and educators.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said masking is one of the strongest tools that can be taken to protect the spread of the delta variant, which has caused a rise in pediatric coronavirus cases. The agency this summer, in a shift in guidance, recommended everyone over the age of 2 — even those who are vaccinated — wear masks inside school buildings.

In letters to the governors of Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah, Cardona said bans on school masking mandates are putting students at risk and “may infringe upon a school district’s authority to adopt policies to protect students and educators as they develop their safe return to in-person instruction plans required by federal law.”

Cardona, in a Wednesday post on the department’s Homeroom Blog, said the department can investigate any state educational agency whose policies or actions “may infringe on the rights of every student to access public education equally.”

“The department will also receive and respond as appropriate to complaints from the public, including parents, guardians, and others about students who may experience discrimination as a result of states not allowing local school districts to reduce virus transmission risk through masking requirements and other mitigation measures,” he wrote. “As always, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights evaluates allegations of discrimination on a case-by-case basis, looking at the specific facts of each case.