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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy is on track to expand “solidly” this year, but the federal deficit is creeping up again, thanks in large part to a package of tax breaks enacted by Congress last year, officials said Tuesday.

Rising consumer demand is expected to boost the economy this year and next, potentially encouraging growth in both wages and employment, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said. The unemployment rate is expected to dip to 4.5 percent by year’s end.

“CBO anticipates that the economy will expand solidly this year and next,” according to the report. “Increases in demand for goods and services are expected to reduce the quantity of underused labor and capital, or ‘slack,’ in the economy — thereby encouraging greater participation in the labor force by reducing the unemployment rate and pushing up compensation.”

The official budget scorekeeper released the annual budget and economic summary one week ahead of schedule to give lawmakers a head start in drafting federal budgets. A full report is due next week.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) wants to launch the budget process early this year. As the architect of the GOP’s previous austerity plans, Ryan says he wants to give voters a clear alternative to Democrats heading into the 2016 election.

While the economic outlook is gradually improving, deficits — which had been declining since the Great Recession — will rise again in 2016 to $544 billion, CBO said.

That’s a $105 billion increase over last year, and $130 billion higher than what had been forecast in August.

“Much of that amount stems from the extension of tax provisions,” the report said.

Overall, revenues are expected to rise by 4 percent, but spending is increasing by 6 percent in 2016, leading to the imbalance.

The rising deficit, to 2.9 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, is the first jump in years and comes after deficits had been falling under President Barack Obama from a peak of 9.8 percent in 2009, the report said.

Increasing deficits will pile on to the nation’s already sizable $18 trillion debt load, leading to higher interest costs in the years to come. CBO said interest payments will double over the decade.

Congress and the White House are about to launch the annual budget process, producing blueprints that often serve more as inspirational documents outlining party priorities than actual fiscal plans.

Already, spending levels for this fiscal year and next are set under a budget accord reached between Congress and the administration last year.

As part of last year’s budget deal, Congress also extended or made permanent dozens of tax breaks for individuals and corporations — including those for business expenses and the working poor, as well as others for specialty industries like racetracks. It was a rare bipartisan compromise.

Congress has until Sept. 30 to approve legislation to fund the government at the already-approved spending levels or risk a shutdown.

©2016 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) holds a weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.