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Tag: covid 19 relief

Why I’m Not (Very) Worried About Inflation

For a long time, inflation has been the phantom of the American economy: often expected but never seen. But the latest Consumer Price Index, which showed that prices rose by five percent from May of last year to May of this year, raises fears that it is breaking down the front door and taking over the guest room.

The price jump was the biggest one-month increase since 2008. It appears to support the warning of former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who wrote in February that President Joe Biden's budget binge could "set off inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation." Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell charged last month that the administration has already produced "raging inflation."

For anyone who lived through the turbulence of the 1970s, when the CPI climbed year after year, peaking at a rate of more than 13 percent, the specter of inflation is enough to induce night terrors. One of the great governmental marvels of the past 40 years was the Federal Reserve's complete conquest of this malady. To let it return would be a grievous setback.

There are reasons to think that could happen. The Fed has pumped huge sums of money into the economy to offset the effects of the pandemic, and the Biden administration got Congress to approve a huge economic relief package. Americans saved a lot over the past year, and if they decide to burn through all that cash, they could push prices still higher.

At this point, though, watchful concern is a more appropriate attitude than outright alarm. For now, I'm not worried — not very worried, anyway — about inflation.

Why not? One reason is that a spike in prices is not inflation any more than a stretch of rain is Noah's flood. It's no surprise that prices in May were appreciably higher than a year earlier — when much of the economy was shut down because of the pandemic.

Prices will keep going up as life continues to return to normal and Americans rush to spend money on all the things they missed because of COVID-19. Lingering supply chain snarls will put additional pressure on prices. But this should be a one-time phenomenon. Inflation is not inflation unless it persists over months and years.

Another reason for optimism is that even when it was trying to raise the inflation rate, during and after the Great Recession, the Federal Reserve found it remained stubbornly low. The central bank's monetary expansion should have brought about the higher inflation it sought. But it didn't — suggesting that something has changed about the connection between the money supply and consumer prices.

Back then, conservative critics forecast an outbreak of inflation caused by easy money and excessive federal spending. In 2009, economist Arthur Laffer wrote, "We can expect rapidly rising prices and much, much higher interest rates over the next four or five years." Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said Americans should be "prepared to carry money to the grocery store in a wheelbarrow."

Let's hope their hallucinations have subsided. If those policies didn't cause inflation then, they may not cause it now. Stable prices have become the intractable norm over the past quarter-century, for reasons we don't fully understand. Loose fiscal and monetary policies don't seem to matter the way they once did.

One danger is that the recent price increases will fuel inflationary expectations, prompting businesses to raise prices and workers to demand higher wages, setting off a self-perpetuating upward spiral. But what inflationary expectations are we talking about?

Data compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis indicate that, as of June 10, the expected inflation rate over the next five years is just 2.23 percent. Interest rates on 30-year mortgages have fallen below three percent, compared with nearly five percent in 2018.

Given their performance over the past 13 years, it's not unreasonable to believe that the Federal Reserve officials who set monetary policy actually know what they're doing. When the pandemic hit, the economy was well into the longest peacetime expansion ever — and inflation was still subdued.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and his colleagues have earned the benefit of the doubt. They haven't forgotten the trauma of the 1970s, and they don't want to go down in history as the people who brought it back.

When prices jump, vigilance against inflation is entirely justified. But we should also watch out for false alarms.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

CNN Poll: GOP Efforts To Discredit Biden Are Failing

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Republicans have been adamant that President Joe Biden's popularity will fall as they vilify his policy proposals, including the coronavirus relief package Congress passed in March and the infrastructure bill congressional Democrats are currently trying to pass.

Yet a new CNN poll released Wednesday found that their strategy has not worked, as Biden — and his policies — remain popular nearly 100 days into his tenure, despite the GOP's best efforts.

According to the CNN poll, 53 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden has done in his first 100 days in office. That approval rating tracks with Biden's approval rating average from FiveThirtyEight, which has hovered around 53 percent since he was sworn in on January 20 — a level he has maintained despite GOP criticism.

Other polls show that despite Republicans' attacks on his policies, both the coronavirus relief package and the infrastructure bill are even more popular than Biden is.

A CBS News/YouGov poll taken between April 21 to April 24 found 58 percent of adults in the United States approve of Biden's infrastructure plan, even though Republicans have been attacking it by saying it is not about infrastructure.

And that same poll found that 66 percent of adults believe the coronavirus relief package — which extended unemployment payments, authorized another round of direct checks, and made a child tax credit more generous to help alleviate childhood poverty — has been "helpful to the economy."

In all, that's a bad sign for Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who told Politico that Biden's "policies are going to be our road to comeback."

Polls show the GOP's strategy of attacking Biden's infrastructure plan because it includes things they argue aren't infrastructure while simultaneously attempting to vilify it because it raises taxes on corporations and the rich is also rife with peril.

A Morning Consult poll from April found that voters believe things like care for the elderly, internet access, and water pipes are infrastructure, despite GOP claims that they aren't.

And voters support raising taxes on those groups. A Monmouth University pollfrom Monday found that 64 percent of Americans support raising taxes on corporations, while 65 percent support raising taxes on those earning more than $400,000 annually.

The fact that Republicans can't seem to make a dent in Biden's popularity appears to be pushing them toward a strategy of running against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the 2022 midterms.

Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee that seeks to elect Republicans to the House, released a memo this week saying Pelosi is unpopular and that tying her to Democratic candidates could help in the quest to win back the House.

But it's unclear that will be the political winner that Republicans think it is.

Stu Rothenberg, a nonpartisan political handicapper, told the American Independent Foundation that, at this stage, he doubts running against Pelosi would be what changed GOP fortunes in the midterms.

"They've got Nancy Pelosi on the brain here, but the reality is that 2022 midterms is likely to be about Joe Biden," Rothenberg said, referring to Republicans. "And, I'd have to see some numbers that would really blow my mind to think that running against Nancy Pelosi would be more effective than running against Joe Biden."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Fed Chair Predicts Imminent Boom, Credits Biden

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Sunday that the economy is likely about to boom, big time. And he credited two of President Joe Biden's efforts for that progress.

On CBS News' 60 Minutes, Powell observed that the economy appears to be at an "inflection point."

"We feel like we're at a place where the economy's about to start growing much more quickly and job creation coming in much more quickly," he said, noting, "we and a lot of private sector forecasters see strong growth and strong job creation starting right now. So really, the outlook has brightened substantially."

Powell was picked for the job by Donald Trump in November 2017. As he announced the nomination at a Rose Garden event, Trump called Powell "strong," "committed," and "smart," saying, "I am confident that with Jay as a wise steward of the Federal Reserve, it will have the leadership it needs in the years to come."

But after praising Powell's "integrity and good judgment," Trump largely ignored Powell's advice and savaged him as an "enemy" of America.

From the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Powell warned that it could be a major economic threat. "We are closely monitoring the emergence of the coronavirus, which could lead to disruptions in China that spill over to the rest of the global economy," he said in February 2020.

Trump responded by pretending the problem would go away and continuing to attack Powell.

In October, Powell urged more congressional action to address the crisis and its economic fallout, and renewed efforts to curb the virus' spread.

"Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses," he told the National Association for Business Economics. "By contrast, the risks of overdoing it seem, for now, to be smaller."

He cautioned that "COVID-19 cases might again rise to levels that more significantly limit economic activity, not to mention the tragic effects on lives and well-being. Managing this risk as the expansion continues will require following medical experts' guidance, including using masks and social-distancing measures."

Trump instead halted all negotiations on a COVID-19 relief package and continued to promote an unsafe immediate reopening of the economy. Cases spiked to an all-time high and the recovery slowed.

Since taking office, Biden has focused on vaccinating everyone and passing massive economic relief. Powell credited both on Sunday for the improved economic situation, saying it was "because of widespread vaccination and strong fiscal support, strong monetary policy support."

After Trump promised in the 2020 campaign to vaccinate just 200,000 people a day, Biden pledged to get that number up to 1 million a day for the first 100 days of his administration. He has far exceeded this goal and CNN reported Monday that at the current pace, half of U.S. adults could be at least partially inoculated by the end of the week.

Powell also expressly praised the pandemic relief bills, saying without them things "would've been so much worse." While some of the bills were bipartisan efforts under Trump, congressional Republicans refused to even consider a House-passed $3 trillion relief package for most of 2020 and unanimously opposed Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

Powell noted that his colleagues are forecasting "growth for this year in the range of six or seven percent, which would be the highest level in, you know, 30 years — or even maybe a little bit higher."

Trump promised growth of "four, five, and maybe even six percent ultimately" but failed to achieve even four percent growth for any year of his presidency.

Experts predict that growth could be even better if Congress enacts Biden's $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan. A recent Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis suggested an infrastructure bill around that size could boost GDP by up to $320 billion annually.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Poll: Voters Credit Democrats, Not Republicans, On Rescue Plan

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Since the passage of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, Republicans have attempted to take credit for the legislation — despite the fact that not a single one voted for it.

Now, a new poll shows these efforts have overwhelmingly failed.

A poll this week by Invest in America shows that voters credit Biden and Democrats for the relief provided by the American Rescue Plan by a 49-point margin, with 48% of Republicans saying the same.

Other recent polls by Vox and Data for Progress show that 62 percent of voters were in favor of passing the expansive American Rescue Plan when contrasted with a smaller, more targeted relief proposed by GOP lawmakers — including nearly 50 percent of Republicans.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) made waves earlier this month when he proceeded to publicly take credit for a provision in the American Rescue Plan — relief for restaurant operators impacted by the pandemic — despite voting against the legislation.

He tweeted March 10, "Independent restaurant operators have won $28.6 billion worth of targeted relief. This funding will ensure small businesses can survive the pandemic by helping to adapt their operations and keep their employees on the payroll."

While Wicker, alongside Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, did propose to amend the COVID relief plan with funding for restaurateurs, Wicker ultimately voted against the entire package.

Rep. Maria Salazar (R-FL) also came under fire for a misleading tweet on the matter.

"So proud to announce that the Biden Administration has just implemented my bipartisan COVID relief bill as part of @SBAgov policy!" she wrote on March 12.

While some interpreted her statement to mean that she was referring to the American Rescue Plan and taking credit for passing it, the deputy of the director of the National Economic Council explained on Twitter that the policy to which she was referring was a separate one introduced by Salazar in the House.

"I've seen some confusion on this. On Friday — separate from the American Rescue bill — SBA announced it was letting 3M+ businesses defer EIDL loan payments for an extra year," Bharat Ramamurti tweeted.

In recent months, Republicans have tried to praise themselves for passing COVID relief, despite months of stonewalling and refusing to grant Americans more assistance as they struggled through the pandemic, suggesting the blame was on Democrats, even as a Democratic bill passed by the House in May 2020 languished in the Senate, untouched.

It's not the first time Republicans have attempted to take credit for a stimulus package they didn't support. In 2009, 114 Republican lawmakers obstructed the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, former President Barack Obama's stimulus package during the economic recession of 2008 — then bragged about its benefits to their constituents.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) was quick to call out Republicans' semantics on social media. "You know how in a group project there is always a handful of students who didn't contribute, but they still take credit at the end. That's the GOP after the passage of the American Rescue Plan," she tweeted on March 14.

Meanwhile, the American Rescue Plan has enjoyed such widespread popularity that many Republicans didn't even know their own party was not in support of it, or that zero GOP lawmakers had voted for it. One recent poll found that close to one-third of Republican likely voters — 31 percent — thought the bill enjoyed bipartisan support and that the GOP had backed it.

Write-in responses from the new Invest in America poll show that Republicans are, on the whole, pleased with the package and relieved to receive stimulus checks.

"It's allowing me to fix a place for myself and my children to live in forever," wrote one New York Republican.

"It made my life better," a Colorado Republican wrote separately.

But Democrats have warned of continuing attempts on the part of the right to hijack the legislation and claim it as their own.

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) said on the House floor this month, "What we are all concerned about on our side is that the Republicans are all going to vote against this, and then they're going to show up at every ribbon cutting, and at every project funded out of this bill, and they're going to pump up their chests and take credit for all of these great benefits that are coming to their citizens."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Trump Holdovers Blamed For Delay In Social Security Survival Checks

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The Internal Revenue Service, which has some longstanding problems of its own, has another recent, urgent one: a backlog of survival checks meant for millions of disabled and retired Americans. They can't send out the $1,400 checks authorized by the American Rescue Plan President Joe Biden signed into law two weeks ago, on March 11. The reason they can't get those checks out to some of the millions who aren't regular tax filers is because they need the Social Security Administration (SSA) to send them the information to do it. And the hold-over Trumpers at the head of the SSA, commissioner Andrew Saul and deputy commissioner David Black, are likely the problem.

A handful of House Democratic committee chairs including Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal are on the case, demanding immediate action from SSA commissioner Saul to fix this. "We are aware that the IRS asked SSA to start sending payment files two weeks before the American Rescue Plan became law on March 11, 2021," wrote the chairmen. "As of today, SSA still has not provided the IRS with the payment files that are needed to issue EIPs to these struggling Americans. We demand that you immediately provide the IRS this information by tomorrow, March 25, 2021."

It's unclear if the AWOL Saul was actually at work to receive the letter. He has a storied history of not bothering to show up at work, just one of the problems the people who work at SSA have with him. Someone, however, got the message. According to an agency spokesperson, the letter was received, because they told HuffPost they'd get those files over to Treasury by Neal's deadline of Thursday. "Social Security staff is working day and night with Treasury and IRS representatives to ensure that the electronic file of Social Security and SSI recipients is complete, accurate, and ready to be used to issue payments," the spokesperson said.

Which is fine, but it will probably take another week for the IRS to get all the information sorted and checks out to the 30 million people who so far have been left out—those who don't normally have to file taxes. The IRS relies on SSA for the information of people who are disabled and retired and are non-filers. The SSA and IRS have already been through two rounds of this, so the procedure wasn't sprung on anybody. On top of that, the IRS gave SSA a two-week notice ahead of the bill being passed and signed essentially to say "get ready, we're going to need to be on this."

Social Security Works, a group that has been advocating for Social Security for years, was not amused. Executive director Alex Lawson slammed SSA's Saul and Black for the delay in an emailed statement, pointing out the real harm of the delay. "As a result, nearly 30 million seniors and people with disabilities—who are among those hit hardest by COVID—still haven't received their relief checks," he wrote. "They are counting on these checks for basic necessities like food and medication."

"Saul and Black were appointed by Donald Trump and have been acting as his agents for years," Lawson continued. "President Biden can't stand for this any longer. He must protect Social Security beneficiaries by firing Saul and Black immediately."

Saul and Black can both be fired by Biden. Since taking office in 2019, they have been working as doggedly to undermine the system as Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has at the U.S. Postal Service. Like DeJoy, they're longtime Republican operatives and big donors. Like DeJoy, destroying beloved institutions seems to be their jam, and making life particularly hard for the most vulnerable among us their goal. The two have not only run roughshod over staff at the SSA, but they have politicized the Social Security disability program, trying to make benefits harder to get and more burdensome to keep by creating all sorts of hoops for disabled people to jump through.

Democrats, including Senate chair of the Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy Sherrod Brown and the members who called out the SSA for delaying checks, have been demanding that President Biden immediately fire and replace the two. They are "incapable of carrying out Democrats' vision of protecting and expanding Social Security," Brown said in his first statement as committee chair. "As agents of the Trump Social Security agenda, they cut the benefits that hardworking Americans have earned, attacked the Social Security Administration's employees, denied beneficiaries due process, and needlessly increased disability reviews during the Covid-19 pandemic," said Brown.

Add unnecessarily delaying critical financial help to 30 million of the most vulnerable Americans to the list. These guys have got to go.

Why Biden’s Vaccine Promise Can’t Be Fulfilled Until Summer

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

President Joe Biden has ordered enough vaccines to immunize every American against COVID-19, and his administration says it's using the full force of the federal government to get the doses by July. There's a reason he can't promise them sooner.

Vaccine supply chains are extremely specialized and sensitive, relying on expensive machinery, highly trained staff and finicky ingredients. Manufacturers have run into intermittent shortages of key materials, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office; the combination of surging demand and workforce disruptions from the pandemic has caused delays of four to 12 weeks for items that used to ship within a week, much like what happened when consumers were sent scrambling for household staples like flour, chicken wings and toilet paper.

People often question why the administration can't use the mighty Defense Production Act — which empowers the government to demand critical supplies before anyone else — to turbocharge production. But that law has its limits. Each time a manufacturer adds new equipment or a new raw materials supplier, they are required to run extensive tests to ensure the hardware or ingredients consistently work as intended, then submit data to the Food and Drug Administration. Adding capacity "doesn't happen in a blink of an eye," said Jennifer Pancorbo, director of industry programs and research at North Carolina State University's Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center. "It takes a good chunk of weeks."

And adding supplies at any one point only helps if production can be expanded up and down the entire chain. "Thousands of components may be needed," said Gerald W. Parker, director of the Pandemic and Biosecurity Policy Program at Texas A&M University's Scowcroft Institute for International Affairs and a former senior official in the Department of Health and Human Services office for preparedness and response. "You can't just turn on the Defense Production Act and make it happen."

The U.S. doesn't have spare facilities waiting around to manufacture vaccines, or other kinds of factories that could be converted the way General Motors began producing ventilators last year. The GAO said the Army Corps of Engineers is helping to expand existing vaccine facilities, but it can't be done overnight.

Building new capacity would take two to three months, at which point the new production lines would still face weeks of testing to ensure they were able to make the vaccine doses correctly before the companies could start delivering more shots.

"It's not like making shoes," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with ProPublica. "And the reason I use that somewhat tongue-in-cheek analogy is that people say, 'Ah, you know what we should do? We should get the DPA to build another factory in a week and start making mRNA.' Well, by the time a new factory can get geared up to make the mRNA vaccine exactly according to the very, very strict guidelines and requirements of the FDA ... we already will have in our hands the 600 million doses between Moderna and Pfizer that we contracted for. It would almost be too late."

Fauci added that the DPA works best for "facilitating something rather than building something from scratch."

The Trump administration deployed the Defense Production Act last year to give vaccine manufacturers priority in accessing crucial production supplies before anyone else could buy them. And the Biden administration used it to help Pfizer obtain specialized needles that can squeeze a sixth dose from the company's vials, as well as for two critical manufacturing components: filling pumps and tangential flow filtration units. The pumps help supply the lipid nanoparticles that hold and protect the mRNA — the vaccines' active ingredient, so to speak — and also fill vials with finished vaccine. The filtration units remove unneeded solutions and other materials used in the manufacturing process.

These highly precise pieces of equipment are not typically available on demand, said Matthew Johnson, senior director of product management at Duke University's Human Vaccine Institute, who works on developing mRNA vaccines, but not for COVID-19. "Right now, there is so much growth in biopharmaceuticals, plus the pinch of the pandemic," he said. "Many equipment suppliers are sold out of production, and even products scheduled to be made, in some cases, sold out for a year or so looking forward."

In the meantime, the shortage of vaccines is creating widespread frustration and anxiety as eligible people struggle to get appointments and millions of others wonder how long it will be before it is their turn. As of February 17, the U.S. had distributed 72.4 million doses and administered 56.3 million shots, but fewer than 16 million people have received both of the two doses that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require for full protection.

The Biden administration has said it is increasing vaccine shipments to states by 20 percent, to 13.5 million doses a week, and encouraged states to give out all their shots instead of holding on to some for second doses. But now that second-dose appointments are coming due, many jurisdictions are having to focus on those and stepping back from vaccinating uninoculated people. Even as the total number of vaccinations increased last week, the number of first doses fell to 6.8 million people, down from 7.8 million three weeks ago, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

At best, it will take until June for manufacturers to deliver enough doses for the roughly 266 million eligible Americans age 16 and over, according to public statements by the companies.

That includes expected deliveries of Johnson & Johnson's one-dose vaccine, which is widely expected to win emergency authorization from the FDA shortly after a public advisory committee meeting on Feb. 26. But Johnson & Johnson has fallen behind in manufacturing. The company told the GAO it will have only 2 million doses ready to go by the time the vaccine is authorized, whereas its $1 billion contract with HHS scheduled 12 million doses by the end of February. It's not clear what held up Johnson & Johnson's production line; the company has benefited from first-priority purchases thanks to the DPA, according to a senior executive close to the manufacturing process. A Johnson & Johnson spokesman declined to comment on the cause of the delay, but said the company still expects to ship 100 million U.S. doses by July.

Vaccine Supply Won't Cover All Until Late Spring

Public statements from vaccine developers Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson illustrate how many people could be covered by the available U.S. supply from now until the end of the summer.

Moderna declined to comment on "operational aspects" of its manufacturing, but "does remain confident in our ability to meet contracted quantities" of its vaccine to the U.S. and other nations, a spokesperson said in a statement. Pfizer did not respond to ProPublica's written questions.

Ramping up production is especially challenging for Pfizer and Moderna, whose vaccines use an mRNA technology that's never been mass-produced before. The companies started production even before they finished trials to see if the vaccines worked, another historic first. But it wasn't as if they could instantly crank out millions of vaccines full blast, since they effectively had to invent a novel manufacturing process.

"Putting together plans 12 months ago for a Phase 1 and 2 trial, and making enough to dose a couple hundred patients, was a big deal for the raw material suppliers," said Johnson, the product manager at Duke University's vaccine institute. "It's just going from dosing hundreds of patients a year ago to a billion."

Raw materials for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are also in limited supply. The manufacturing process begins by using common gut bacteria cells to grow something called "plasmids" — standalone snippets of DNA — that contain instructions to make the vaccine's genetic material, said Pancorbo, the North Carolina State University biomanufacturing expert.

Next, specific enzymes cultivated from bacteria are added to cause a chemical reaction that assembles the strands of mRNA, Pancorbo said. Those strands are then packaged in lipid nanoparticles, microscopic bubbles of fat made using petroleum or plant oils. The fat bubbles protect the genetic material inside the human body and help deliver it to the cells.

Only a few firms specialize in making these ingredients, which have previously been sold by the kilogram, Pancorbo said. But they're now needed by the metric ton — a thousandfold increase. Moderna and Pfizer need bulk, but also the highest possible quality.

"There are a number of organizations that make these enzymes and these nucleotides and lipids, but they might not make it in a grade that is satisfactory for human consumption," Pancorbo said. "It might be a grade that is satisfactory for animal consumption or research. But for injection into a human? That's a different thing."

Johnson & Johnson's vaccine follows a slightly more traditional method of growing cells in large tanks called bioreactors. This takes time, and the slightest contamination can spoil a whole batch. Since the process deals with living things, it can be more like growing plants than making shoes. "Maximizing yield is as much of an art as it is a science, as the manufacturing process itself is dependent on biological processes," said Parker, the former HHS official.

The vaccine developers are continuing to find tweaks that can expedite production without cutting corners. Pfizer is now delivering six doses in each vial instead of five, and Moderna has asked for permission to fill each of its bottles with 15 doses, up from 10. If regulators approve, it would take two or three months to change over production, Moderna spokesman Ray Jordan said on Feb. 13.

"It helps speed up and lighten the logistical side of getting vaccines out," said Lawrence Ganti, president of SiO2, an Alabama company that makes glass vials for the Moderna vaccine. SiO2 expanded production with $143 million in funding from the federal government last year, and Ganti said there aren't any hiccups at his end of the line.

Despite the possibility of sporadic bottlenecks and delays in the coming months, companies appear to have lined up their supply chains to the point that they're comfortable with their ability to meet current production targets.

Massachusetts-based Snapdragon Chemistry received almost $700,000 from HHS' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to develop a new way of producing ribonucleoside triphosphates (NTPs), a key raw material for mRNA vaccines. Snapdragon's technology uses a continuous production line, rather than the traditional process of making batches in big vats, so it's easier to scale up by simply keeping production running for a longer time.

Suppliers have told Snapdragon that they have their raw materials covered for now, according to Matthew Bio, the company's president and CEO. "They're saying, 'We have established suppliers to meet the demand we have for this year,'" Bio said.

Mollie Simon and Caroline Chen contributed reporting.

Leaked Memo Shows GOP Leadership Whipping Opposition To $1400 Relief Bill

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

House Republican leadership on Friday urged every GOP lawmaker to vote against President Joe Biden's coronavirus relief legislation, mocking the proposal as "Pelosi's Payoff to Progressives Act," according to a leaked memo issued by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise and obtained by The Hill.

Because Democrats control the House, the bill doesn't need Republican votes to pass.

However, by trying to get GOP lawmakers to oppose the bill, Republicans are making a risky bet that voting against a piece of legislation that a recent poll shows more than two-thirds of voters support is good politics.

In fact, polls show that the very things House Republicans are condemning in the bill are overwhelmingly popular with the electorate.

For example, the memo sent to House Republicans lists the $1,400 direct payments to Americans as one of the reasons to oppose the legislation.

But a recent Quinnipiac University poll found 78% of Americans support the $1,400 checks.

What's more, even Donald Trump supported that dollar figure for checks when he was in office, and recently slammed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for blocking passage of the checks in an angry statement calling for McConnell's ouster as Senate Republican leader.

Trump said McConnell "matched the Democrat offer of $2,000 stimulus checks with $600. How does that work? It became the Democrats' principal advertisement, and a big winner for them it was."

Even 44 House Republicans supported that check total in December, when Democrats put it up for a vote as a dare to McConnell.

Also on the list of reasons House Republican leadership included as reason to vote against the bill is a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

However, the Quinnipiac poll found 61 percent support increasing the minimum wage.

A Navigator Research poll from early February also showed broad support for the provisions in Biden's relief bill that House Republicans are opposing.

For example, House Republicans listed an increase to weekly unemployment insurance payments as a reason to vote against the bill. But the Navigator Research poll found 63 percent of registered voters support that provision.

Republicans also list an increase in food stamp allowances as a negative part of the bill. Yet 73 percent of registered voters support the increase, per the Navigator Research survey.

Voting en masse against a Democratic bill and hoping that constant attacks on the legislation will help Republicans has been tried before.

It's the same strategy Republicans used in 2009 against former President Barack Obama's health care law.

However, unlike the overwhelmingly popular coronavirus relief bill, there was more opposition to the Affordable Care Act before it passed.

"Public opinion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been largely divided along partisan lines since the law was passed in 2010," the Kaiser Family Foundation wrote in a piece in December 2020 about trends in support for the ACA, better known as Obamacare.

Ultimately, Republicans will be on record opposing a coronavirus relief bill as more than 10 million people remain out of work and weekly jobless claims remain at historic highs.

House Democratic leaders are looking to hold a vote on the coronavirus relief bill by the end of next week.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Biden Is Already Uniting America -- His Agenda Is Wildly Popular

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

As Democrats maneuver to pass a $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill to rescue the U.S. economy, journalists are using the fact that most Republicans oppose the emergency legislation to to raise doubts about President Joe Biden's ability to "unify" the country. Instead of marveling at the fact that the GOP stands poised to reject a bill that is highly popular with voters and would send generous payments to tens of millions of American families, the press keeps its focus on Democrats, while missing the larger story.

Echoing the Republican narrative that Biden is supposed to surrender this agenda to the party out of power days after being sworn into office (that's not how elections work), journalists are misreading the "unity" story. At a White House press briefing during Biden's first week as president, a reporter demanded to know, "When are we going to see one of those substantial outreaches that says, 'This is something the Republicans want to do, too'?"

The press insists that Biden's welcome call for unity, following a bloody insurrection inside the U.S. Capitol last month, now means that any policy push by him is divisive because Republicans oppose it.

The focus on the Beltway political process misses the more meaningful story that continues to unfold in the early weeks of the Biden presidency — he is "unifying" the country because his agenda is wildly popular. Unlike the divisive and unpopular agenda that Trump pushed, and the way he governed by caring only about his Republican base, Biden's first weeks in office have been marked by polling that shows deep public support for his domestic and foreign initiatives. That's key because being a leader who can "unify" the country is more important that being a leader who can pick up some Republican votes in Congress.

The dirty little secret the press doesn't like to dwell on, as it excitedly plays up the "unify" theme? Republicans are committed to opposing Biden, period. Just as they were committed to opposing President Barack Obama. The party's radical obstruction has become so normalized over the last decade that journalists no longer recognize it. Instead, they start legislative conversations from a mythical starting point, assuming there are lots of open-minded Republicans who are willing to support Democratic legislation if the Democratic president would properly court them. (Barack Obama criticized for not knowing how to schmooze his opponents, as if that were the reason they wouldn't budge.)

Following the Republicans' radical obstruction of a Democratic-sponsored gun law in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre in Connecticut in 2012, a bill that enjoyed 90 percent public support, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) admitted that most of his Republican colleagues refused to allow a vote in favor because they didn't want a Democratic president to get a 'win.' "There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it," said Toomey.

That GOP partisanship has only hardened today. Yet the press' focus remains fixed on how Democrats can achieve two-party cooperation in the name of unifying the country.

Biden's already doing that. He began his presidency 25 points more popular than Trump, and then began signing a flurry of executive orders designed to eradicate his predecessor's most divisive policies. While Republicans whined about the moves not "uniting" the country, polling show that many of Biden's executive orders enjoy overwhelming public support. They include banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation (83 percent support), requiring masks be worn on federal property (75 percent), overturning the ban on transgender people being able to serve in the military (71 percent), restarting the federal DACA program to protect undocumented "Dreamer" children (65 percent), rejoining the World Health Organization (62 percent), and rejoining the Paris climate according (59 percent).

The list goes on and on as Biden forges a path with policy markers that unify the country.

That includes the proposed Covid relief bill. Depicted in the press as being a deeply partisan and divisive issue, simply because the Republican Party stands opposed to the Democratic legislation, the bill enjoys sweeping support nationwide. Nearly 80 percent of Americans support sending $1,400 checks, 79 percent support federal assistance for state and local governments, and 73 percent are in favor of extending unemployment benefits. Even among Republican voters, the Democrats' $1.9 trillion relief bill gets higher approval marks than does Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Politically, the bill represents a home run for Democrats, but the Associated Press depicts it as a "dilemma" for them because Republicans oppose it. (Why isn't it a "dilemma" for the GOP?) And The Wall Street Journal stressed that Biden faced a "big decision" whether to pass the bill even if all Republicans objected. (Spoiler: He does not.)

Meanwhile, Biden continues to garner high marks for his leadership on fighting the pandemic, the most pressing issue facing the country.

Biden is already helping to unify the country, even if Republicans and the press don't want to acknowledge it.