Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Last Call For Can't Get No Relief

Senate Democrats are struggling to keep all 50 on board for Biden's American Rescue Plan, while Senate Republicans are doing everything they can to delay the bill as long as possible in hopes that it falls apart and that they can blame Democrats for the suffering.

President Biden has agreed to narrow eligibility for a new round of $1,400 stimulus payments in his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, a concession to moderate Senate Democrats as party leaders moved Wednesday to lock down support and finalize the sweeping legislation.

Under the new structure, the checks would phase out faster for those at higher income levels, compared to the way the direct payments were structured in Biden’s initial proposal and the version of the bill passed by the House on Saturday.

The change came as the Senate prepared to take an initial procedural vote to move forward on the bill as early as Wednesday evening. Biden and Senate Democratic leaders were scrambling to keep their caucus united since they cannot lose a single Democrat in the 50-50 Senate if Republicans unite against the legislation.

In addition to the stimulus checks, the sweeping economic package would also extend unemployment benefits through August, as well as set aside $350 billion for state and local aide; $130 billion for schools; $160 billion for vaccinations, testing and other health care system support; an enhanced child tax credit and other provisions including rental aid and food assistance.

At least one Senate Republican -- Lisa Murkowksi (R-Alaska) -- appeared open to considering a vote in favor of the legislation, telling reporters, “My state needs relief.” Elsewhere, though, GOP opposition was hardening, as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) announced plans to force Senate officials to read the entire 600-page-plus bill aloud before debate could even begin -- a process he predicted would take around 10 hours.

“I don’t want to sound like a leftist, but I’m gonna resist,” Johnson told a talk radio host in Wisconsin.

Under the plan for stimulus checks passed by the House, individuals earning up to $75,000 per year and couples making up to $150,000 per year would qualify for the full $1,400 payment. The size of the payments would then begin to scale down before zeroing out for individuals making $100,000 per year and couples making $200,000.

Under the changes agreed to by Biden and Senate Democratic leadership, individuals earning $75,000 per year and couples earning $150,000 would still receive the full $1,400-per-person benefit. However, the benefit would disappear for individuals earning more than $80,000 annually and couples earning more than $160,000.

That means singles making between $80,000 and $100,000 and couples earning between $160,000 and $200,000 would be newly excluded from seeing any benefit under the revised structure Biden agreed to.
There's no real good reason to limit who gets checks even further, but moderate Blue Dogs like Joe Manchin and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire are insisting that the limits be changed and the money that would have gone to upper middle class folks be given to hospitals and schools for vaccination help instead.

The good news is that Republicans like Lisa Murkowski may sign on to the bill, yay!  The bad news is nobody should really give a single damn about what anyone rancid enough to remain in the Trump white supremacist party has to say.

So, we'll see. Personally I want to see someone call Manchin's bluff and make him personally responsible for sinking this bill, but the stakes are too high. People are going to hurt badly without this money. We can't afford gamesmanship here.

But Senators are going to Senate.

Texas Goes Very Viral, Con't

In a brilliant effort to make Texans stop hating him over the power and water issues in the state, GOP Gov. Greg Abbott is lifting all COVID-19 regulations for people, businesses, and schools effective next Wednesday, so they'll hate him for killing tens of thousands of Texans over the next couple of months instead.

"It is now time to open Texas 100%," said Gov. Greg Abbott this afternoon, signaling the ease of COVID-19 restrictions.

Effective next Wednesday, all businesses of any type are allowed to open 100 percent and the mask mandate will be lifted, the governor stated as part of his executive order to rescind previous orders.

While Abbott acknowledged the virus isn't going away, he insisted the state is far better equipped to fight COVID-19 than a year ago thanks to vaccines.

Late last week, the Texas governor indicated an announcement is coming "pretty soon" on whether he'll relax current COVID-19 mandates, including one in effect since last July that requires masks in public.

"We're working right now on evaluating when we're gonna be able to remove all statewide orders, and we will be making announcements about that pretty soon," Abbott said during a news conference in Corpus Christi last Thursday.

Abbott's announcement took place inside a locally-owned Mexican restaurant in the Lubbock area.

"We don't want to continue to prevent people from doing what they want to do. But let's get down to a good level," Fauci said in an interview on "Face the Nation." "Let's get many, many more people vaccinated. And then you could pull back on those types of public health measures. But right now, as we're going down and plateauing, is not the time to declare victory because we're not victorious yet."

While there has been a drop in the number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations since early January, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), warned Friday that the declines could be stalling at a high number, which she said was a "very concerning shift in the trajectory." As of Friday, the seven-day average is just under 73,000 new infections, according to the CDC.

While Fauci said the fall in coronavirus cases was "really sharp and encouraging," he agreed a plateau of around 70,000 new cases per day is "concerning."

"That's exactly the thing that happened during previous surges," he said. "As it peaked and started to come down, people withdrew some of the intensity of the public health measures and it kind of stabilized at a very high level. That's very dangerous."

Fauci stressed Americans should continue to comply with public health measures such as wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings and social distancing. He said the leveling off in new cases also underscores the need to vaccinate as many people "as quickly and as expeditiously as you possibly can."

"That's why adding yet again another really good vaccine into the mix is really very important," he said.


So expect to see another spike in COVID cases in March and hospitalizations and deaths in April. Hopefully Texas won't suffer too badly in the meantime, but I'm betting with zero mask and social distancing mandates, the spike will be rapid and devastating and very obvious to officials by April 1.

Sorry, Texas friends.  Your 2021 is only going to get worse.

Georgia On Trump's Mind, Con't

Fulton County, Georgia DA Fani Willis's election fraud case against Donald "find me those votes" Trump is headed to an Atlanta grand jury this week.

Fulton County prosecutors are expected to appear before a grand jury this week seeking subpoenas for documents and witnesses related to their investigation of former President Donald Trump and some of his top associates for possible election fraud, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.

Legal experts are split as to whether there’s a strong case to be made, but most agree Trump’s efforts to overturn Georgia’s election results merit greater scrutiny. Fani Willis, Fulton’s new district attorney, has said she’s prepared to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Some believe the recording of Trump’s Jan. 2 phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger leaning on him to “find” the votes to reverse Joe Biden’s win is grounds to move forward.

“If there were a textbook (example of) how to commit criminal election fraud, this would be it,” said Atlanta attorney David Walbert, who has represented Fulton County and the state of Georgia in several elections and redistricting cases.

Longtime criminal defense attorney Don Samuel believes the matter isn’t cut-and-dried.

“You’ve got to prove not only that he encouraged the secretary of state to commit a crime, but that he did so willfully and aware that what he was doing was illegal,” said Samuel, whose high-profile clients have included football stars Ray Lewis and Ben Roethlisberger and attorney Claud “Tex” McIver. That “is kind of an uphill battle, it seems to me, when you’re surrounded by lawyers when you’re making the call.”

Willis, an experienced prosecutor admired even by courtroom adversaries, said during a recent interview that she has no choice but to investigate.

“Nobody is above the law,” she said.
Nobody is above the law, but the law changes depending on who's enforcing it.
Needless to say, watch Georgia Republicans carefully on this one.  This is still Georgia, and if the grand jury goes badly, Republicans will keep their mouths shut. But if the proceedings turn into what I think will happen -- a viable case for indicting Donald Trump -- then the GOP will unleash its full fury against her, and I even expect Gov. Brian Kemp to try to remove her from office somehow.
And also, there's the very real possibility that violence, possibly lethal violence, mind you, could be employed. After the attempted January 6th coup, all bets are off as to what happens.
But you'd better believe Georgia is on Trump's mind, and the attacks on Willis will start very, very soon.


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