Thursday, March 25, 2021

Last Call For Tales From The Trump Depression, Con't

Joe Biden continues to clean up Donald Trump's mess, as new weekly jobless claims, while still ludicrously high thanks to Republican mismanagement of the economy, are finally going down towards pre-pandemic levels.

The number of Americans applying for jobless aid fell to its lowest level since the coronavirus pandemic erupted a year ago. Some 684,000 people applied for unemployment benefits in the week ending March 20, the Labor Department said Thursday. The number, adjusted for seasonal variation, is a drop of 97,000 from the week before.

Another 241,000 people applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program for the self-employed and gig workers.

"Today's unemployment report shows a slowly-improving labor market, as for the first time in over a year, the Department of Labor has reported fewer than 1 million new claims for benefits," Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, said in a statement.

Prior to the pandemic, a typical week saw around 250,000 new unemployment claims, and the number never topped 700,000, even during the depths of the Great Recession. Economists predict that fewer people will file for benefits in the coming weeks as more people receive vaccines and businesses reopen.

"[W]e expect claims to fall sharply as the economy reopens fully across the second quarter," Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics told investors in a note.
We're still in the Trump Depression, folks. It's taken three multi-trillion dollar stimulus packages just to keep the country from sinking beneath the waves, a government GDP boost of more than 50% of 2019 numbers just to get to the point of massive food bank car lines and only 10 million jobs lost for good.

But things are finally starting to stabilize. A lot of work still has to be done, and a lot of things still have to go right. Luckily, we're finally in a position where that can begin to happen.


Busting The Filibuster, Con't

An inevitable attempt to "reform" the filibuster by Democratic moderates like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and Republican "mavericks" like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski was inevitable, and equally inevitable is the fact that the "Group of 20" will fail completely to come to any terms, because the majority of them want the filibuster around to blame for not actually passing legislation.
The survival of the Senate's effective supermajority rule to pass bills could hinge on a working group of 20 senators that includes the most moderate members in both parties.

If the group can cut deals and deliver victories, it could become the model for lawmaking under President Joe Biden. If it fails, the Democratic-led Congress will face pressure to pursue partisan avenues to enact its ambitious agenda, including the simple-majority budget process and nixing the filibuster.

The group, evenly divided between the two parties, is off to a rough start. It was sidelined for the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package. It is ill-defined and lacks a clear focus or method. It has yet to show signs of success in the new presidency.

Its ability to prove that the Senate can function under the 60-vote requirement carries high stakes for the future of the chamber — and for politics and policymaking over the next four years.

"The argument against the filibuster is that nothing happens and it's all obstruction. And if we can make it work, we can get legislation passed without changing the rules," said Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and has worked across the aisle.

Republican members of the group say they want to defuse the push to ax the filibuster.

"That's certainly our goal: to diminish the hue and cry by the left for elimination of the 60-vote rule," said Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas. "To say, no, there are ways in which we can work together, that the Senate can function, and needs to."

Sen. Todd Young of Indiana, another GOP member of the group, agreed.

"I do think that group will be the group that decides whether or not we can maintain the 60-vote threshold," Young said. "I don't see any reason for me to continue to participate in the group if some of the members significantly erode the filibuster, or decide to effectively abandon it altogether."

The group will serve as a critical test of Sen. Joe Manchin's theory that the filibuster should be preserved because it promotes cooperation. The West Virginian is the most outspoken Democratic supporter of the 60-vote threshold, and without him the party lacks the votes to modify it.

"Let's start talking to each other — not talking over each other or through each other as senators. We're talking as individuals with each other," Manchin told NBC News on Tuesday, when asked about the role of the group. "Good commonsense people should find common ground."

The two issues that have generated the most optimism about bipartisanship lately are an infrastructure package and legislation to enhance U.S. competitiveness with China.

The group of 20 was scheduled to meet on Wednesday, senators said, as Congress grapples with a host of contentious issues including a hike in the minimum wage, gun violence, immigration and the migrant influx at the border, and voting rights. But that meeting didn't materialize, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation.
Understand that this charade is supposed to fail, and fail miserably. But it will eat up months of time, if not years, without having to produce any results. And when it doesn't, Republicans will have a golden opportunity to take back the House, on top of ending any shot at anything passing for the next 46 months. 

Sen. Joe Manchin said Wednesday that he favors a large infrastructure package that would be paid for in part by raising tax revenues — a point of contention between the two parties.

"I'm sure of one thing: It’s going to be enormous," the West Virginia Democrat, who is seen as a swing vote in a chamber divided 50-50, told reporters at the Capitol.

While he didn't predict a price tag, Manchin said Congress should do "everything we possibly can" to pay for it. He said there should be "tax adjustments" to former President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax law to boost revenues, including by raising the corporate rate from the current 21 percent to at least 25 percent.

The tax benefits in the Republican law were "weighted in one direction to the upper end," Manchin said. He also suggested an "infrastructure bank" paid for with revenues, potentially a value-added tax, that would be used for "rebuilding America."

"I'm not afraid to look at other things," he said.
A grand total of zero Republicans in the Senate would vote for a dime in higher taxes, so I have no idea what he thinks he's doing, but the infrastructure package will have no Republican support. Mitch McConnell made that clear early last week.

Hope you enjoyed the American Rescue Plan Act. It's the last major piece of legislation that will ever make it through this Congress, or the next one.

Ridin' With Biden, Con't

Yet another first for President Joe Biden's already historic Cabinet: the first openly transgender Assistant Heath and Human Services Secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine was confirmed this week in a 52-48 vote.

All Democrats and Independents voted to support Levine, with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) crossing the aisle to support her, prompting cheers from advocates who called the vote a breakthrough.

“I firmly believe that turning points, such as today’s Senate confirmation vote for Dr. Levine’s appointment, are powerful indications that this nation is truly heading down the pathway to lasting transgender equality,” said Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who served in the Obama administration and was the first openly transgender official to work in the White House.

Levine, who most recently served as Pennsylvania’s top health official, is the first openly transgender official to be confirmed by the Senate. Her candidacy was widely opposed by religious-rights groups, and some Republican critics also zeroed in on gaps in Pennsylvania’s nursing home data that they said complicated the state’s response to the pandemic.

The assistant secretary for health oversees a broad portfolio of public-health initiatives, and President Biden has said that Levine will play a key role in the nation’s coronavirus response. The Trump administration’s assistant secretary for health, Brett Giroir, served as the nation’s coronavirus testing czar.

The assistant secretary for health also oversees the surgeon general, Vivek H. Murthy, who was confirmed on Tuesday.

LGBTQ advocacy organizations applauded the vote, with many advocates having viewed Levine’s candidacy as a symbolic victory amid efforts to ban or restrict treatments for transgender youth.

“With the confirmation of Dr. Rachel Levine, we are one step closer to a government that mirrors the beautiful diversity of its people,” Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement
Dr. Levine has been one of the nation's top physicians for decades, and helped lead Pennsylvania through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic as the state's Secretary of Health. A pandemic-tested official who actually did the right thing?

Yes, more folks like that in America's top health advocacy and response positions, thanks.


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