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Senate Republicans Whining Over Biden’s ‘Two-Track’ Infrastructure Plan

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Senate Republicans are upset that President Joe Biden plans to enact other spending legislation after striking a deal with them on infrastructure.

The infrastructure deal calls for about $579 billion in new spending on transportation, water systems, power, and broadband infrastructure. It does not include most of the climate change, child care, and caregiving funding — described as "human infrastructure" — that Biden requested in his original $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan.

Democrats plan to enact some of these priorities separately — as well as the health care, paid leave, and educational investments from Biden's American Families Plan— through the budget reconciliation process, without any GOP support.

Biden, who ran on campaign promises to enact such legislation, said Thursday he plans to sign the packages together. While most bills — including the bipartisan infrastructure deal — require a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate, a loophole allows passage of some taxation and spending legislation to pass with a simple majority.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell lamented soon after that Biden was "caving completely" to the "left-wing base" by doing both.

"Less than two hours after publicly commending our colleagues and endorsing the bipartisan agreement, the president took the extraordinary step of threatening to veto it," McConnell (R-KY) complained, referencing Biden's statement that he would not sign one bill without the other. "It was a tale of two press conferences — endorse the agreement in one breath and threaten to veto it in the next."

McConnell was not part of the bipartisan negotiations or the infrastructure deal that was eventually struck. His endorsed GOP negotiating team — led by West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito — was unable to reach an agreement previously after they offered only a fraction of the new spending Biden had requested.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) had similar complaints. "Democrat [sic] leaders, including the president, have undermined their own negotiators and the Republicans who've been negotiating in good faith," he tweeted. "They're holding bipartisanship hostage for partisanship."

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) suggested that the deal was really "no deal" because Biden also planned to enact a reconciliation package. And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Politico he would oppose the infrastructure plan because Biden's decision to push other legislation separately somehow amounted to extortion.

"The Dems are being told you can't get your bipartisan work product passed unless you sign on to what the left wants, and I'm not playing that game," he said.

Biden, meanwhile, has been clear throughout the process that the infrastructure package is not his only priority and that this deal did not preclude a reconciliation package.

In initial remarks after meeting with the bipartisan group on Thursday morning, Biden told reporters "there is going to be a two-track system" for the two spending plans.

In an afternoon press conference, he noted that this had always been the plan.

"The bipartisan bill, from the very beginning, was understood there was going to have to be the second part of it," he said. "I'm not just signing the bipartisan bill and forgetting about the rest that I proposed. I proposed a significant piece of legislation in three parts. And all three parts are equally important."

"The question is: How much can we get done? And the bottom line is: When all is said and done, does what you agree to preclude, forever, you getting the things you really want?" he added. "Well, I'm not for that. I'm not going to vote for one of those deals."

As long as Democrats stay united, the GOP will have little power to stop those plans.

Democratic senators from across the political spectrum have indicated that they are on board with passing a major "human infrastructure" bill through the reconciliation process.

"I've come to the knowledge, basically, that budget reconciliation is for reconciling budgets. So it's money matters," West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a staunch holdout on many of Biden's more progressive-leaning policies, told NBC News, while endorsing such a package.

"I think we can, we can make that happen. It's going to be either both or nothing," Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders told reporters, noting that the reconciliation package must address "the needs of working families, climate change and progressive tax reform."

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) concurred. "Ultimately there's two tracks, and both trains have to arrive at the station at the same time," he said, according to NBC News.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Infrastructure Deal Hinges On Additional Climate And Social Spending

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

UPDATE: President Joe Biden hosted the bipartisan Senate group at the White House to confirm the infrastructure deal on Thursday afternoon. "Neither side got everything they wanted in this deal," Biden said. "That's what it means to compromise, and it reflects something important, reflects consensus. The heart of democracy requires consensus." He also said the deal is "in tandem" with an additional bill funding clean energy and human infrastructure programs, to be passed solely by Democrats under budget reconciliation rules -- and that he won't sign one without the other.

A bipartisan group of 10 senators said it had reached a tentative deal with the White House on an infrastructure plan. But while their verbal agreement includes hundreds of billions of dollars in new investment in transportation and water infrastructure, several Democrats are saying they will only support it if it is paired with investments in omitted infrastructure priorities such as climate and caregiving.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) announced on Wednesday, "Republicans and Democrats have come together, along with the White House, and we've agreed on a framework and we're gonna be heading to the White House tomorrow."

"We have a framework and we are going to the White House tomorrow," said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA).

The group also includes Republicans Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Rob Portman (OH), as well as Democrats Joe Manchin (WV), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), Jon Tester (MT), and Mark Warner (VA).

In a statement released by the White House, press secretary Jen Psaki said, "White House senior staff had two productive meetings today with the bipartisan group of Senators who have been negotiating about infrastructure. The group made progress towards an outline of a potential agreement, and the President has invited the group to come to the White House tomorrow to discuss this in person."

According to Axios, the plan would call for either $974 billion in infrastructure spending over the next five years or $1.2 trillion over the next eight. About $559 billion of that would be new spending, $20 billion less than was included in the group's earlier proposal.

The senators have not yet announced how it would be funded but claim it is fully paid for.

In March, Biden proposed the $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan, which would significantly boost investment in roads, bridges, water systems, clean energy, broadband, transit, climate, child care, and caregiving infrastructure. Congressional Republicans unanimously opposed the plan, with many complaining that only roads and bridges really count as infrastructure.

The bipartisan group's plan omits virtually all funding for clean energy, climate, child care, and caregiving infrastructure.

The package would require a three-fifths supermajority in the Senate and a majority in the House. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) suggested on Thursday evening that most Democrats have not yet signed off on the plan. "My sense is that deal right now has 20 votes, not 60 votes. We are going to have to take a deep dive into the agreement they have reached, and, you know, square it with the needs of our voters," he told CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Several of his colleagues have objected to the lack of clean energy and climate investment in the proposal and have said they will only agree to back it if enough Democrats agree to address caregiving and the environment in a separate package that could be passed through budget reconciliation without any GOP support.

Such a deal would likely also include investments in health care, paid leave, child care, pre-K programs, and other priorities included in Biden's original $1.9 trillion American Families Plan.

"We have made our position clear, that the possibility of a bipartisan deal depends on a commitment to move forward on reconciliation," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) told Politico on Tuesday.

"One can't be done without the other," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters on Wednesday. "We can't get the bipartisan bill done unless we're sure of getting the budget reconciliation bill done. We can't get the budget reconciliation bill done unless we're sure to get the bipartisan — and I think our members, across the spectrum, realize that."

"No climate, no deal," vowed Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) on June 9.

The need for investment in both transportation and climate infrastructure was illustrated this week by major news stories across the country.

In Washington, D.C., a pedestrian bridge collapsed on Wednesday onto an interstate highway. Several people were injured.

On the West Coast, climate change has fueled massive heatwaves and drought.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Progressive Democrats Set Conditions For Infrastructure ‘Compromise’

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Democratic leaders are reportedly mulling accepting a bipartisan compromise infrastructure plan as long as the Democratic senators working with Republicans on the plan agree to another massive investment package later that would include the care giving and climate infrastructure investments.

According to Politico, they are open to passing a compromise bill with $579 billion in new investment in transportation, broadband, and water system infrastructure being shopped by a group of five Democrats and five Republicans. But they would only do so if they got assurances from those Democrats that they will later support passing more spending through the budget reconciliation process, which would not require any GOP support.

On CNN on Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed a similar sentiment: "We must build back better. So if this is something that can be agreed upon, I don't know how we can possibly sell it to our caucus unless we know there is more to come."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said last week, "We all know as a caucus, we will not be able to do all the things that the country needs in a totally bipartisan way. But we're not going to sacrifice the bigness and boldness in this bill. We will just pursue two paths and at some point they will join."

President Joe Biden initially proposed a $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan that would invest in transportation, water systems, broadband, climate change, clean energy, child care, and caregiving infrastructure. He also asked Congress to pass a $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which would provide free community college and expand access to affordable child and health care.

Republicans have objected to both plans, calling them "socialism," not really infrastructure, and too expensive. They also unanimously opposed his proposals to pay for the investment by keeping his campaign promises to raise taxes on corporations and those making $400,000 and up.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), one of the 10 senators pushing the compromise package, said Sunday that the bipartisan infrastructure plan would contain no tax increases and would be funded mostly by repurposing unspent pandemic relief funds and charging new fees to drivers of electric cars.

Two of the most conservative members of the Senate Democratic caucus are also part of the bipartisan group: Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Both have refused the go-it-alone Democratic strategy in the narrowly divided chamber, pushing to work with Republicans.

Several other Democrats have spoken out against accepting a plan like theirs that does not include investment to address climate change.

"No climate, no deal," warned Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey on June 9.

With "nothing on climate change," said Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden the next day, the package would be "a complete nonstarter."

But if the conservative Democrats promised to support a subsequent bill that included vital investments that were excluded from the infrastructure package, those concerns could be assuaged.

"There would have to be clarity that we're getting the second package. Manchin and Sinema are going to have to give assurances to [Senate Budget Committee Chair] Bernie [Sanders]," an unnamed Democratic source told Politico.

For that to happen, however, at least 10 Republicans would have to agree to the infrastructure proposal. So far, only Sens. Bill Cassidy (LA), Collins, Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), and Mitt Romney (UT) have endorsed it.

If that does not come about, the Democrats could pass the entire plan without a single GOP vote using the Senate's budget reconciliation rules if all of them were to vote in favor.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Senate Democrats Must Kill The Filibuster Before It Kills Democracy

Have Americans still got the guts for democracy? In light of recent events in Washington, you'd have to say it's doubtful.

Last week the Senate voted 54-35 to establish an independent commission to investigate the seditious January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol—the most violent attack there since the War of 1812. The House had previously approved the measure 252-175.

If the Senate vote were a football score, you'd call a nineteen point win decisive. And yet, the measure failed to survive a Republican filibuster, a quaint Senate rule requiring a supermajority of sixty votes to become law.

Created during racial segregation and used for decades to block civil rights reforms, the filibuster is found nowhere in the U.S. Constitution. It's neither a law nor a Supreme Court ruling. It's simply a Senate custom—and an openly un-democratic one—which could be eliminated tomorrow by a simple majority vote.

The Senate is a conservative institution by definition. It gives far more power and influence to small rural states than to large, metropolitan ones where most people live. Citizens of Wyoming, population 573,000, for example, have 70 times the influence in the U.S. Senate as citizens of California, population 39.5 million.

Only major constitutional surgery can change that, so it's never going to happen. No point even talking about it.

Add the filibuster, however, and it's a recipe for legislative paralysis: to wit, a government that refuses to defend itself against violent insurrection because it might hurt Citizen Trump's feelings.

Or might put Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in a tight spot. Not to mention Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). These two heroes spoke out decisively in the immediate aftermath of the January 6 coup attempt, but now the wind has changed and they're busily hunting cover.

"If you can't get a Republican to support a nonpartisan analysis of why the Capitol was attacked for the first time since the War of 1812, then what are you holding out hope for?" asks Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).

What, indeed?

Former Obama White House aide David Plouffe put it even more bluntly on Twitter: "Democracy dying so the filibuster can live would seem a terrible way for this experiment to end."

Polls have shown that a clear majority of Americans support the establishment of a January 6 Commission by 56 to 30 percent. Even 28 percent of Republicans would be interested in finding out, for example, how many of those "tours" given by right-wing congressmen on January 5 consisted of pre-riot reconnaissance? Or who gave the "stand down" order preventing the National Guard from arriving on time, and why?

Just how organized was the conspiracy that resulted in "Proud Boys" running through the halls of Congress chanting "Hang Mike Pence!" while the vice-president's security team hustled him into hiding?

Did the Proud Boys keep it a secret from their pal Roger Stone? Did he neglect to tell his pal, Donald J. Trump?
Inquiring minds want to know.

Senate Republicans, not so much.

Look, under current circumstances, 54-35 equates to a thunderous majority. Filibuster, however, equates with doing nothing, and with political cowardice.

Indeed, the filibuster is arguably more responsible than anything else for the disdain with which most Americans view Congress's congenital inability to act. That's certainly how Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) sees it.

"If they block the January 6 commission, we will have to abolish the filibuster," Markey told the Washington Post. "If the Republicans block climate action, we will have to abolish the filibuster. If Republicans block voting rights, we'll have to abolish the filibuster. If Republicans block gun control legislation, we will have to abolish the filibuster. So I think that it's just continuing to move towards the inevitability of the unavoidable necessity of repealing the filibuster."

And yet preserving the filibuster is seemingly more important to certain "moderate" Democrats—specifically Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kirsten Sinema (D-AZ)—than all of those things. See, something else the filibuster does is to enhance the power and visibility of individual Senators--one reason President Joe Biden, a 30-year Senate veteran, is himself iffy about abolition.

The argument is that the 60-vote Senate requirement somehow fosters bipartisanship, although nobody ever says how. Mostly it now fosters Manchin's televised imitations of Maine's GOP Sen. Susan Collins—routinely regretting this and deploring that, before falling quietly in line. (In fairness, Manchin and Collins both voted for the January 6 commission.)

On the day after voting to drop the filibuster, Manchin would return to being just another of 50 Democratic senators. So there's that.

Others argue that should Republicans re-take the Senate come 2022, Democrats could come to regret killing the filibuster. Could be, although does anybody think the GOP won't ditch the rule whenever it's convenient?

In the foreseeable future, there's no chance of either party securing a sixty-vote majority. The choice is between majority rule and paralysis.

Attacked By Texas Republican, Sen. Markey Silently Drops Crushing Tweet On Him

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Sen. Ed Markey is the Massachusetts Democrat who has continued to move towards the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and the voters have rewarded him, first by defeating the strange Pelosi-supported primary bid by Rep. Joe Kennedy III and then by winning reelection to his Senate seat with a commanding 66.5 percent of the vote.

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Be Afraid! GOP Screams Green New Deal Will Ban Ice Cream

No, the Green New Deal will not ban ice cream, cheeseburgers, milkshakes, cars or air travel — as Republicans have ludicrously claimed over the past few days.

It’s absurd that even needs to be said. However, in an effort to turn public opinion against the ambitious piece of legislation a pair of Democrats introduced last week to try and combat climate change, Republicans have been spewing ridiculous lies about what the deal would do.

On Monday night at a campaign rally in El Paso, Texas, Trump falsely claimed the deal would “shut down a little thing called air travel.”

“How do you take a train to Europe?” Trump said, mocking the deal.

The deal, to any normal human being who has read it, does not ban air travel. It simply would make other forms of public transportation faster and more readily available, thus making air travel less necessary within the U.S.

Congressional Republicans have also gotten in on the foolishness surrounding the deal.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) — a member of House Republican leadership — falsely said the deal would “outlaw cars.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday that the deal would ban ice cream.

“There’s another victim of the Green New Deal, it’s ice cream,” Barrasso said, without any sarcasm. “Livestock will be banned. Say goodbye to dairy, to beef, to family farms, to ranches. American favorites like cheeseburgers and milkshake will become a thing of the past.”

Where do we even begin with this whopper, no pun intended. Barrasso is apparently referring to the plan‘s net-zero emissions goal, which he’d like us to believe is a threat to cows.

Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to get your Ben & Jerry’s and In-N-Out if the Green New Deal passes. As the Washington Post reports, “Nothing in the resolution eliminates ‘all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military,’ as Trump tweeted.”

But don’t expect it to pass.

Even though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’ll put the bill to a vote, he’s only doing it in an effort to put vulnerable Democratic senators in a bind — without proposing any climate change legislation of his own.

Democrats, for their part, are annoyed at the GOP misinformation, but unswayed by the smear campaign.

“Republicans don’t want to debate climate change, they only want to deny it,” Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and co-sponsor of the deal, said in a statement.

“The Green New Deal resolution has struck a powerful chord in the country,” Markey continued, “and Republicans, climate deniers and the fossil fuel industry are going to end up on the wrong side of history.”

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Democrats Push To Restart CDC Funding For Gun Violence Research

by Lois Beckett, ProPublica.

Two congressional Democrats are unveiling legislation this morning that would restart the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s gun violence research efforts.

Since 1996, when a small CDC-funded study on the risks of owning a firearm ignited opposition from Republicans, the CDC’s budget for research on firearms injuries has shrunk to zero.

The result, as we’ve detailed, is that many basic questions about gun violence — such as how many Americans are shot each year — remain unanswered.

The new legislation, which will be introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) in the House, and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) in the Senate, would give the CDC $10 million a year “for the purpose of conducting or supporting research on firearms safety or gun violence prevention.”

“In America, gun violence kills twice as many children as cancer, and yet political grandstanding has halted funding for public health research to understand this crisis,” Maloney said in a statement.

Maloney, who co-sponsored the 1994 assault weapons ban, is a longtime gun control advocate. Earlier this year, she and Markey encouraged President Obama to include CDC funding in his proposed 2015 budget, which he did.

Obama’s proposal has been opposed by key Republicans.

“The President’s request to fund propaganda for his gun-grabbing initiatives though the CDC will not be included in the FY2015 appropriations bill,” Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that traditionally sets CDC funding, told ProPublica last month.

The CDC sponsors a wide variety of disease and injury prevention programs, focusing on everything from HIV/AIDS to averting falls by elderly people. Since 2007, the CDC has spent less than $100,000 a year on firearms-focused work, according to a CDC spokeswoman. The money goes not for research but for a very rough, annual estimate of the number of Americans injured by shootings.

The National Rifle Association’s director of public affairs told CNN last year that more government-funded gun research is not needed.

“What works to reduce gun violence is to make sure that criminals are prosecuted and those who have been found to be a danger to themselves or others don’t have access to firearms,” Andrew Arulanandam said. “Not to carry out more studies.”

The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the proposed legislation.

Professional groups that represent doctors, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, support the push for more research funding. In a letter last summer, the associations wrote that “the dearth of gun violence research has contributed to the lack of meaningful progress in reducing firearm injuries,” and noted that “firearm injuries are one of the top three causes of death among youth.”

The CDC is not the only source of federal funding for gun violence research. The Justice Department — which has funded gun violence prevention studies since the 1980s — gave nearly $2 million to firearms violence projects last year, and is offering as much as $1.5 million in research funding this year.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which invests $30 billion in medical research each year, put out a call last fall for new research projects on gun violence prevention. It’s not yet clear how much money the NIH will devote to the research. The NIH will announce the gun violence projects it will fund in September and December, a spokeswoman said.

A report last year from experts convened by the federally funded Institute of Medicine outlined the current priorities for research on reducing gun violence. Among the questions that need answers, according to the report: How often do Americans successfully use guns to protect themselves each year? Could improved “smart gun” technologies reduce gun deaths and injuries, and will consumers be willing to adopt them? And would universal background checks — the most popular and prominent gun control policy proposal — actually reduce gun violence?

Photo: brian.ch via Flickr