Biden signs bill raising the debt ceiling, averting potential default
Joe Biden has officially signed the bill raising the debt ceiling by $2.5tn, averting a default that would have had disastrous effects on the domestic and global economy.
In a statement, the White House noted that Biden also signed a bill awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the US troops who were killed during the Kabul evacuation mission earlier this year.
The House approved the debt ceiling bill yesterday in a vote of 221 to 209, sending the legislation to the president’s desk.
The House vote came after Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and minority leader Mitch McConnell reached an agreement to approve a temporary rule change allowing Democrats to end a Republican filibuster of the bill with just 51 votes. The debt ceiling bill ultimately passed the Senate in a vote of 50 to 49.
The one-time change to the filibuster has led to suggestions from some Senate Democrats that the chamber should be able to make similar adjustments to approve a voting rights bill.
“We think it’s so important that we change the rule in order to save the economy,” Senator Raphael Warnock told NBC News this week.
“Well, the warning lights on our democracy are blinking right now, and we seem unwilling to respond with the same urgency to protect the democracy that we have to protect the economy.”
Tommy Vietor, who previously served as National Security Council spokesperson under Barack Obama, criticized Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer for his new deadline to pass a voting rights bill before the 2022 elections.
I don’t understand making pronouncements like this without any discernible path to success. I would love for the Senate to focus on and pass voting rights legislation, but this just feels like lurching from one rhetorical cul de sac to another… https://t.co/vnDoGmVJRj
December 16, 2021
“I don’t understand making pronouncements like this without any discernible path to success,” Vietor said on Twitter. “I would love for the Senate to focus on and pass voting rights legislation, but this just feels like lurching from one rhetorical cul de sac to another.”
As of now, Schumer does not have the votes to pass a voting rights bill because centrist Senator Kyrsten Sinema remains opposed to altering the filibuster, which would be necessary to approve such a bill.
Today so far
Here’s where the day stands so far:
- Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said he wants to pass a voting rights bill “in time for the 2022 elections,” per CNN. As of now, the Democratic leader does not have the votes to pass voting rights legislation because centrist Senator Kyrsten Sinema remains opposed to altering the filibuster to clear the way for such a bill.
- Centrist Senator Joe Manchin’s concerns about the Build Back Better Act have stalled negotiations, essentially eliminating the possibility of Democrats passing the bill before the end of the year. Manchin has reportedly expressed concern about the cost of the bill’s provision to continue the expanded child tax credit program.
- US hospitals are bracing for another potential surge in coronavirus cases as the Omicron variant spreads across the country. Omicron now accounts for nearly 3% of all Covid cases in the US as of Saturday – up from only 0.4% the week before, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.
Chuck Schumer, the senate majority leader, said Thursday that he wants to pass Democrats’ two sweeping voting bills in time for the 2022 election. But that looks increasingly more difficult the longer Democrats delay.
Advocates don’t think the window to do anything about the 2022 elections has passed, but it is rapidly closing.
In Texas, a state that has some of the most gerrymandered maps in the country, the period for candidates to file for office next year ended on Monday. Overseas voters will begin to get mail-in ballots for the state’s 1 March primary in January. And the state’s voter registration deadline is 31 January.
Those fast-approaching deadlines puts Democrats at a huge disadvantage. Courts will likely be more hesitant to step in and make sweeping election changes now that the election process is well underway since doing so could potentially mean changing ballots and risk voter confusion.
Several provisions in the Freedom to Vote Act would require states to make significant overhauls to the way their elections are run, including implementing systems for same-day and automatic voter registration. Those changes take time to implement, and while it’s not impossible, would be increasingly difficult to do ahead of fast approaching spring primaries.
“I think that it’s doable. But if we want to ensure that it’s done correctly and well, it’s going to take some time and definitely some resources,” Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser at the Democracy Fund, said back in November.
“So the sands in the hour glass are slipping away and it is not something that if it’s not passed relatively soon, I don’t think there are ways in which many facets of the bill would be able to be implemented well.”
Democrats want voting rights bill before 2022 elections, Schumer says
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer is now saying Democrats want to pass a voting rights bill “in time for the 2022 elections,” according to CNN.
Schumer now saying that they want to get voting rights bill done “in time for the 2022 elections.”
What Schumer didn’t promise: a vote (which would fail) before Christmas
With Manchin/Sinema opposed to changing rules, there’s no path to getting bill done even next year
December 16, 2021
There had been signs that Democrats were hoping to approve filibuster rule changes and pass a voting rights bill before the end of the year, as negotiations over the Build Back Better Act have stalled.
However, centrist Senator Kyrsten Sinema has indicated she is still opposed to amending the filibuster, leaving Schumer with no path to pass a voting rights bill this month.
If Sinema remains staunchly opposed to filibuster reform, Schumer will also not be able to pass a voting rights bill next year, as he needs all 50 members of his caucus on board to approve any rule changes.
Even fully vaccinated Americans may not be protected against the Omicron variant, particularly if they have not yet received their booster shots.
Ed Yong writes in the Atlantic:
As a crude shorthand, assume that Omicron negates one previous immunizing event—either an infection or a vaccine dose. Someone who considered themselves fully vaccinated in September would be just partially vaccinated now (and the official definition may change imminently). But someone who’s been boosted has the same ballpark level of protection against Omicron infection as a vaccinated-but-unboosted person did against Delta. The extra dose not only raises a recipient’s level of antibodies but also broadens their range, giving them better odds of recognizing the shape of even Omicron’s altered spike. In a small British study, a booster effectively doubled the level of protection that two Pfizer doses provided against Omicron infection.
But, but, but: those who have received booster shots should not assume they are entirely immune from contracting Omicron. Yong notes:
In South Africa, the variant managed to infect a cluster of seven people who were all boosted. And according to a CDC report, boosted Americans made up a third of the first known Omicron cases in the U.S.
Governments are bracing for high coronavirus case counts as the Omicron variant spreads around the world. More than 75 countries have now reported cases of Omicron, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday.
The New York Times reports:
The news over the past few days — both scientific studies and real-world data — has added to the evidence that Omicron is more contagious than any previous version of the Covid-19 virus.
In South Africa, where Omicron was first identified, the recent rise has been steeper than during any previous surge. ‘When Omicron enters a community, the increase in case numbers looks like a vertical line,’ Dr. Paul Sax of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston said.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are scheduled to receive a briefing from the White House pandemic response this afternoon to hear the latest updates on the spread of Omicron.
France will dramatically tighten restrictions on travel from Britain to slow the spread of the new Omicron variant, effectively banning all non-essential journeys.
The government announced in a statement that incoming travellers would require “an essential reason to travel to, or come from, the UK, both for the unvaccinated and vaccinated” from midnight on Saturday (11pm GMT Friday).
“People cannot travel for tourism or professional reasons,” it said, adding that the British government had itself said that the UK would face “a tidal wave” of new infections fuelled by the Omicron variant.
France had therefore “chosen to reinstate the need for an essential reason for travel from and to the UK”, it said.
In addition, all arrivals from the UK will need a negative PCR or antigen test taken within the previous 24, rather than 48 hours, and will have to quarantine in France for seven days – reduced to 48 hours if they can produce a new negative test.
Despite the growing concerns over the Omicron variant, Dr Anthony Fauci expressed hope that families will still be able to gather for the holidays if people are vaccinated and boosted.
Good Morning America
“If you and your family are vaccinated and boosted hopefully, you should feel comfortable about having a holiday situation where you have dinners and gatherings in your own home.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks on the COVID surge heading into the holidays. https://t.co/9OSjXvpVmJ pic.twitter.com/CtYzFHGs3W
December 16, 2021
“If you and your family are vaccinated and boosted hopefully, you should feel comfortable about having a holiday situation where you have dinners and gatherings in your own home with family and friends,” the president’s chief medical adviser told “Good Morning America” today.
Fauci added, “But that will only be safe if people get vaccinated.”
As of now, 65% of the Americans aged five or older are fully vaccinated against coronavirus, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But only 30% of American adults have received booster shots as of now.
US hospitals brace for potential Omicron surge in January
A wave of new Omicron cases is beginning to surge in America and could peak as early as January, the Centers for Disease Controls (CDC) has warned, as states are scrambling to prepare for overloaded hospitals. The US has passed 800,000 deaths, including 1 in 100 Americans over the age of 65.
The Omicron variant accounted for nearly 3% of Covid cases in the US as of Saturday – up from only 0.4% the week before, according to data from the CDC. The variant is expected to continue rising rapidly, based on the experiences of other countries and could be dominant within weeks.
“I suspect that those numbers are going to shoot up dramatically in the next couple of weeks,” Céline Gounder, infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at New York University and Bellevue Hospital, told reporters on Wednesday. She expects an Omicron wave to peak in late January and then come down sometime in February.
In a meeting with state health leaders on Tuesday, the CDC presented two scenarios, based on models, for how the variant might drive infections in the next few weeks and months. Omicron and Delta cases could peak as soon as January or a smaller surge of Omicron could happen in the spring.
Although Joe Manchin’s criticism is the most significant issue in the Build Back Better negotiations right now, it is far from the only hurdle that the bill faces in the Senate.
Punchbowl News reports:
Democrats are fighting among themselves over [the state and local income tax deduction] and immigration. That’s not Manchin’s fault. And the parliamentarian hasn’t finished scrubbing the bill for possible Byrd Rule problem. And that isn’t Manchin’s fault.
So let’s be real. It’s not just Manchin. He’s a big problem for the leadership and White House, easily the most high profile headache, but hardly the only one. They don’t have the text of the legislation finished. The parliamentarian is still grinding away. [Centrist Senator Kyrsten Sinema] hasn’t publicly endorsed the package, which makes some Senate Democrats uneasy.
According to reports, Joe Manchin has expressed criticism of the proposal to continue the expanded child tax credit program through the Build Back Better Act.
The coronavirus relief package that Joe Biden signed in March included changes to the program, such as allowing families with children to receive monthly checks (rather than an annual lump sum after filing taxes) and making the credit fully refundable (so more low-income families could access the benefit).
Democrats want to continue the expanded program for one year through their $1.75tn spending package, but Manchin has reportedly expressed concern about the cost of doing so.
The main issue is that Manchin believes all the programs in the bill should be viewed on a 10-year basis, even though some of them expire after just a year or a few years.
And if the expanded child tax credit program were extended through the next decade, which the current version of the bill does not call for, it would require significantly more funding than the bill allocates.
But the expanded tax credit is a point of pride for Biden and other Democrats from the relief bill, so they will likely be very hesitant to cut it from the spending package. The negotiations continue, so stay tuned.
Centrist senators throw up roadblocks for Build Back Better and voting rights
Greetings from Washington, live blog readers.
Senate Democrats had initially hoped to pass their Build Back Better Act before the end of the year, but that deadline is slipping away, as talks between Joe Biden and Joe Manchin drag out.
The legislation looks increasingly likely to stall over the impending holiday break, prompting Biden himself to bemoan the slow pace. And Manchin (D-W.Va.) grew frustrated on Wednesday when questioned about whether he opposes a provision in the bill to extend the expanded child tax credit, deeming those queries ‘bullshit’ and denying that he wants to end the $300 monthly check many families receive for children. …
‘The talks between [Biden] and Manchin have been going very poorly. They are far apart,’ the source said.
Because of the stalled negotiations, Democrats were instead looking to pass a voting rights bill this month, by approving changes to Senate rules to circumvent a Republican filibuster on the issue.
But now Kyrsten Sinema is putting the brakes on that idea as well. Here is Politico again:
The Arizona moderate is making clear that she intends to keep protecting the Senate’s 60-vote requirement on most legislation and she isn’t ready to entertain changing rules to pass sweeping elections or voting legislation with a simple majority. …
In a statement to POLITICO, a spokesperson said that Sinema ‘continues to support the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, to protect the country from repeated radical reversals in federal policy which would cement uncertainty, deepen divisions, and further erode Americans’ confidence in our government.’
This centrist opposition means that Biden’s hopes of ending his first year in office with a significant legislative accomplishment are quickly disappearing, along with Democrats’ agenda.
The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.