With Senate Democrats coalescing around a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint, lawmakers and White House aides plan on Wednesday to begin fleshing out what could be a transformative piece of social legislation — which extends the reach of public education and health care, taxes the rich and addresses the warming planet.
President Biden plans to go to the Capitol for a lunchtime rallying of the Democratic troops, all of whom must remain in lock-step agreement for the budget proposal to pass, paving the way for the party to push through much of his economic agenda over Republican opposition.
A final vote could be months away and will face multiple hurdles, but for now, Democrats and their independent allies insist they are together.
“This is in our view a pivotal moment in American history,” declared Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont and chairman of the Budget Committee. “For a very long time, the American people have seen the very rich getting richer and government developing policies, which allow them to pay, in some cases, not a nickel in federal income taxes. They’ve seen corporations make huge profits — in some cases, they’re not paying a nickel in taxes.”
He added, “What this legislation says, among many, many other things, is that those days are gone.”
Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, the centrist Democrat whose support might be determinative, released a noncommittal statement Wednesday, saying only, “I know my Democratic colleagues on the Budget Committee have worked hard, and I look forward to reviewing this agreement. I’m also very interested in how this proposal is paid for and how it enables us to remain globally competitive.”
Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, also hung back on Wednesday, when her office said she would decide whether to support the proposal based on what was in it.
For now, Senate Democrats were emphasizing unity and the hard work ahead.
“This is a moment in history when the United States needs to reassert itself in how we deal with families, how we deal with our children, with the existential crisis of climate change and how we deal with China,” Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia and one of the key negotiators, told reporters Wednesday morning.
Combined with nearly $600 billion in new spending on physical infrastructure contained in a separate plan, the budget process is intended to deliver on Mr. Biden’s $4 trillion economic proposal. Senate Budget Committee Democrats must produce a budget resolution in the coming days that includes so-called reconciliation instructions to other Senate committees to draft legislation detailing how the $3.5 trillion would be spent — and how taxes would be raised to pay for it.
Under budget rules, that legislation, expected to emerge in September, would then be protected against a filibuster and could be passed this fall with Democratic votes — if all 48 Democrats and their two independent allies stay on board.
The budget resolution is expected to include language prohibiting tax increases on small businesses and people making less than $400,000, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the accord, who disclosed details on the condition of anonymity.
The resolution will call for an expansion of Medicare to add coverage for dental, vision and hearing benefits, a priority for liberals. It is also likely to extend a temporary provision in the president’s pandemic relief law that greatly expands subsidies for Americans purchasing health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
Prekindergarten and two years of community college would be extended universally. Subsidies would be expanded for child care and elder care. And huge investments would be made in renewable energy and a transformed electrical system to move the U.S. economy away from oil, natural gas and coal to wind, solar and other renewable sources.
The tax plan emerging to pay for it would tax overseas corporate activities harder to alleviate incentives for sending profits overseas. Capital gains tax rates would go up for the rich, and large inheritances would face higher taxes.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York plans to propose legislation on Wednesday to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, putting his weight as majority leader behind a growing movement to unwind the decades-old war on drugs.
The draft bill, called the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and begin regulating and taxing it, placing the first federal rules on a burgeoning industry that has faced years of uncertainty. Though states would still be allowed to set their own marijuana laws, businesses and individuals in states that have made its use legal would be free for the first time to sell and consume it without the risk of federal punishment.
The proposal would also attempt to compensate communities of color and the poor for the damage inflicted by years of restrictive federal drug policy. It calls for immediately expunging nonviolent marijuana-related arrests and convictions from federal records and would earmark new tax revenue for restorative justice programs designed to lift up communities marked by “the failed federal prohibition of cannabis.”
The bill aims to “finally turn the page on this dark chapter in American history and begin righting these wrongs,” said Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, who wrote the bill with Mr. Schumer and Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and the chairman of the Finance Committee.
The legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Republicans are opposed, and is unlikely to become law in the near future. President Biden has not endorsed it, and some moderate Democrats are likely to balk at the implications of decriminalizing a drug that has been policed and stigmatized for so long.
But in the arc of the public’s rapid reconsideration of marijuana laws, Wednesday’s presentation was a remarkable milestone for legalization proponents. The suggestion that the Senate’s top leader and the chairman of the powerful Finance Committee would sponsor major decriminalization legislation would have been fantastical in the not-too-distant past.
BERLIN — Angela Merkel is scheduled to arrive at the White House on Thursday for talks with the fourth U.S. president she has known since becoming German chancellor, on a visit partly about policy and partly about legacy as she prepares to leave office this year.
Over her more than 15 years in power, the relationship between Berlin and Washington has withstood disagreements over the detention camp at Guantánamo and allegations that the National Security Agency had tapped the chancellor’s phone. But President Donald J. Trump’s notoriously hostile exchanges with Ms. Merkel over NATO contributions, trade and multilateralism have left relations badly in need of a repair.
In President Biden, she now finds herself working with a man she has known for years and who has long supported a strong trans-Atlantic relationship and multilateral partnerships.
But there is much work to be done to restore relations. Most of all, Ms. Merkel would like to return stability and trust to the relationship and buffer it from what many in Europe now fear may be episodic disruptions tied to U.S. elections every four years.
“The concern is that, realistically, there could again be some other administration in the U.S. that might come back to what we saw during Trump,” said Peter Beyer, Germany’s coordinator for trans-Atlantic affairs.
“The question has been discussed and many people have worked their brains over how we can make the U.S.-German relationship so resilient, so strong that it will not fall back to that,” he said.
First, substantive differences between the nations — over a new Russian natural-gas pipeline to Europe, over whether to embrace or contain a rising China and over how to manage the coronavirus pandemic — will have to be navigated.
In choosing the chancellor as the first European leader to visit the White House since he took office, Mr. Biden is making it clear that the invitation is about more than allowing Ms. Merkel a victory lap while she picks up an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins — to add to those she has already received from Harvard and Stanford.
The president is eager to get Germany, which has Europe’s largest economy, on board for some of his own geopolitical goals before the campaign cycle for the U.S. midterm elections begins heating up, especially on China and Russia.
After years of resistance from Pentagon leaders, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, appeared to be nearing victory on a major change to how the military handles sexual assault cases. But her emphasis on the inclusion of all serious crimes in the measure as a matter of racial justice now threatens to weaken her support.
Ms. Gillibrand’s push to remove commanders from decisions in the prosecution of sexual assault cases had gained bipartisan backing despite opposition from military leaders. Last month, President Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III endorsed a similar change recommended by an independent military panel.
But Mr. Austin and some of Ms. Gillibrand’s strongest allies in Congress on this issue are balking at the more extensive changes to the military justice system. Some lawmakers say they had only recently focused on the particulars of the measure.
“Her bill is far broader than I had realized,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine and an early proponent of Ms. Gillibrand’s measure. “I believe she’s made a compelling case on sexual assault and related allegations to be taken out of the chain of command.”
But Ms. Collins said she did not think there was justification for moving other alleged crimes out of the military justice system.
Ms. Gillibrand’s bill would remove the decision to prosecute major crimes like sexual assault and other felonies such as murder from military commanders to military prosecutors. The Pentagon panel suggested a more limited change: that a special victims unit within the military should be set up for sex assault cases and a few other crimes.
But Ms. Gillibrand argues that would create an unequal system and has said her proposal would also help combat racial injustice in military prosecutions.
That perspective has helped bring other voices to her cause.
Representative Anthony Brown, Democrat of Maryland, a veteran and former Army judge advocate general, said in an interview, “I think in aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic murder, it really propelled many of us to say: ‘Hey, this is a real opportunity here to fix these inequities and disparities.’”
The Energy Department on Wednesday announced a new effort to tackle one of the toughest technical challenges facing President Biden’s push for an electric grid dominated by solar and wind power — namely, what to do when the sun stops shining and the wind stops blowing.
The government is chasing a promising but uncertain solution: a low-cost way to store electricity generated by the sun or wind for hours, days or even weeks at a time, saving it for when it’s most needed. That goes far beyond what current batteries can do. While dozens of companies are working on different ideas for so-called “long-duration energy storage,” most are still too expensive to be practical.
As part of its initiative, the Energy Department wants to drive down the cost of long-duration storage 90 percent below the cost of today’s lithium-ion batteries by 2030. The agency will direct experts at its national labs to focus on improving such technologies while it seeks funding from Congress for early demonstration projects.
The announcement is part of the agency’s Energy Earthshots Initiative, which aims to accelerate the deployment of nascent technologies to fight climate change. The program is an acknowledgment that the United States has not yet fully developed all the technologies it needs to meet Mr. Biden’s goal of zeroing out the nation’s planet warming emissions by 2050.
Mr. Biden is counting on increasingly cheap solar and wind power to meet his goal of having the United States get 100 percent of its electricity from power plants that do not emit carbon dioxide by 2035. The White House is currently trying to persuade Congress to enact a clean electricity standard that would require utilities nationwide to meet that target.
The electricity sector is responsible for one-quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, with roughly 60 percent of electricity still generated by burning fossil fuels, mostly natural gas and coal. The Biden administration sees curbing electricity emissions as central to its climate plans, since it is also trying to convince Americans to buy more electric cars and heat pumps that will plug into the grid.
But cleaning up the power sector will require more than just new laws, experts said. It also poses major technological challenges.
Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, told House lawmakers that inflation has increased “notably” and is poised to remain higher in coming months before moderating — but he gave no indication that the recent jump in prices is pushing central bankers to rush to change policy.
The Fed chair attributed high inflation numbers to factors tied to the economy’s reopening from the pandemic, and indicated in response to questioning that Fed officials expect inflation to begin calming in six months or so.
Mr. Powell’s testimony before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, comes at a fraught moment politically and economically when it comes to inflation. The Consumer Price Index spiked by 5.4 percent in June, the biggest jump since 2008 and a larger move than economists had expected. Price pressures appear to be poised to last longer than policymakers at the White House or Fed had expected.
“Inflation has increased notably and will likely remain elevated in coming months before moderating,” Mr. Powell said in his opening remarks.
He later acknowledged that “the incoming inflation data have been higher than expected and hoped for,” but he said the gains are coming from a “small group” of goods and services directly tied to reopening.
Mr. Powell attributed the current pop in prices to a series of factors: temporary data quirks, rising prices on goods and services facing supply constraints that ought to “partially reverse” and climbing costs for services that were hard-hit by the pandemic and are now experiencing a demand surge. He noted that longer-run inflation expectations remain under control — which matters because inflation outlooks help to shape the future path for prices.
Expectations “have moved up from their pandemic lows and are in a range that is broadly consistent with the F.O.M.C.’s longer-run inflation goal,” Mr. Powell said, referring to the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee.
“We are monitoring the situation very carefully, and we are committed to price stability,” Mr. Powell said. He added that “if we were to see that inflation were remaining high and remaining materially higher above our target for a period of time — and that it was threatening to uproot inflation expectations and create a risk of a longer period of inflation — then we would absolutely change our policy as appropriate.”
For now, the Fed chair made no indication that the path for policy is poised to change based on the hotter-than-expected price data. He said that labor market conditions are improving but that “there is still a long way to go” and that the Fed’s goal of achieving “substantial further progress” toward its economic goals before taking the first steps toward a more normal policy setting “is still a ways off.”
Fed officials are debating when and how to slow their $120 billion of monthly government-backed bond purchases, which would be the first step in moving policy away from an emergency mode. Mr. Powell said those discussions will continue “in coming meetings.”
The central bank is also maintaining its policy interest rate at near-zero, which helps to keep borrowing cheap for consumers and businesses. Officials have set out a higher standard for lifting rates: They want the economy to return to full employment and inflation to come in on track to average 2 percent over time.
Their guidance says they want to see inflation “moderately” above 2 percent for a time, and Mr. Powell was asked on Wednesday what that standard means at a time when price pressures are so strong.
“Inflation is not moderately above 2 percent, it’s well above 2 percent,” Mr. Powell said of the current data. “The question will be, where does this leave us in six months or so — when inflation, as we expect, does move down — how will the guidance work? And it will depend on the path of the economy.”
Raising rates is not yet up for discussion, officials have said publicly and privately.
Since February, when the Biden administration reopened the Affordable Care Act insurance marketplaces, two million Americans have signed up for coverage, health officials announced Wednesday.
Total enrollment in the Obamacare marketplaces is now at a record high, though the final numbers are not yet available, said Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in a call with reporters. The previous high was 12.7 million Americans who selected plans in 2016.
Enrollment in Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor and disabled, has also reached a record high. A total of 81 million Americans were covered by Medicaid in February, the most recent month with complete data.
The increases reflect a growing demand for insurance coverage during the pandemic, when many Americans lost job-based coverage or became more worried about remaining uninsured. But they also reflect major policy changes this year: Congress passed legislation that substantially lowered the price of insurance for nearly all Americans buying their own coverage.
“A lot of Americans are on the edge — they are trying to figure out if they can afford that coverage,” said Xavier Becerra, the secretary of Health and Human Services. “If you give them that opportunity, they’ll sign up.”
This is the first recession since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, a 2010 law meant in part to provide a safety net for Americans who do not get health coverage through their work. That law now looks more secure than ever, after surviving a third challenge to its legitimacy at the Supreme Court last month.
In addition to the new money, the Biden administration has opened the doors for new enrollees and aggressively advertised the opportunities. People are typically allowed to enroll in A.C.A. coverage for only a brief period in the fall. Citing the pandemic, Biden administration officials established a much longer enrollment period this year. Signups were reopened in mid-February and will remain available until Aug. 15.
The government has also been paying for marketing to spread the word about the extended enrollment period and the new subsidies.
Although A.C.A. markets grew more stable in recent years, Trump administration officials took fewer steps to encourage Americans to seek coverage. They slashed funding for outreach and advertising, and made the enrollment period shorter than it had been under the Obama administration.
The Justice Department sought the email records of three Washington Post reporters the day before William P. Barr stepped down as attorney general in a last-ditch effort to identify who told the newspaper about conversations between Trump campaign officials and the Russian ambassador, newly unsealed court documents show.
The Dec. 22 request, one of Mr. Barr’s last acts in office, was part of the Trump administration’s major escalation of a yearslong campaign to crack down on leaks of classified information to the news media. The Trump Justice Department also sought New York Times reporters’ records in that period.
The Biden Justice Department had disclosed the effort — which also included seizing the reporters’ phone records — last month, leading to the unsealing of the Post docket. The files shed new light on what happened, including listing the day prosecutors applied for the email records order and identifying three Post articles that were the subject of a leak investigation.
Those articles, identified only by their dates of publication, apparently included one in May 2017 that reported that President Donald J. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had discussed with Russia’s ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, the possibility of using Russian diplomatic facilities as a communication back channel during the transition.
They also included a June 2017 article about the Obama administration’s struggles to deal with Russian election interference the previous year, and a July 2017 article reporting that Jeff Sessions, the attorney general at the time, had discussed campaign issues with Mr. Kislyak when Mr. Sessions was a senator and a Trump campaign surrogate the previous year.
Republican supporters of a bipartisan infrastructure deal, rushing to lay the groundwork for a Senate vote as early as next week, have found themselves hung up on a familiar issue: how to pay for the hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending.
As lawmakers toil to turn a broad infrastructure outline into detailed legislation, the problem of the so-called pay-fors — which has plagued the bipartisan group behind the framework from the start — has only become thornier. Now, they are bracing for the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan congressional scorekeeper, to rule that the revenue increases they agreed to in June will not add up to enough money to cover the nearly $600 billion for roads, bridges, rail and broadband included in their eight-year, $1.2 trillion plan.
Making their job even tougher, conservative groups have begun a pressure campaign to scuttle a key revenue-raiser: a crackdown on tax cheats by the Internal Revenue Service that proponents say could produce as much as $100 billion to help pay for the plan.
“This is going to be a real vulnerability, now until Election Day,” Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform and a veteran conservative activist, said about the I.R.S. provision. “If you put your fingerprints on ‘audit more,’ everyone who gets audited, fairly or unfairly, is going to think, ‘You did this to me.’ Your fingerprints are on the murder weapon.”
The bipartisan group of negotiators met on Tuesday to finish their deal and determine legislative language, their first in-person session since returning from a two-week recess.
On a parallel track, Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee met to discuss what to include in a budget blueprint they are putting together, which will be the vehicle to pass an even more expansive package of social spending that Republicans oppose. They plan to move that package using a maneuver known as reconciliation, which would allow it to avoid a filibuster and pass with only Democratic and independent votes.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, has said he intends to hold votes on both the budget blueprint and the bipartisan infrastructure bill before the Senate leaves for its August recess.
“It’s not going to be easy, but every member of our caucus knows it’s going to be worth it,” he said at his weekly news conference.
Americans get millions of illegal robocalls every month, despite attempts by the telecommunications industry and government agencies to stop them.
The Federal Communications Commission — the government agency that regulates communications — is trying to cut down on the calls with new rules that went into effect on June 30, Christine Hauser reports for The New York Times.
Here’s how it works.
In short, the F.C.C. is trying to make sure that if you’re getting a call, the network on which it is being made is verifying the caller.
The F.C.C.’s first step was setting a June 30 deadline for what it calls “voice service providers” (you know them as phone companies) to register their efforts to reduce the scourge of scams in a public Robocall Mitigation Database. So far, more than 1,500 of them have, the F.C.C. said.
Starting on Sept. 28, phone companies must refuse calls from providers that have not registered with the F.C.C.
The F.C.C. hopes to get all providers, including smaller regional networks, on board. That would reduce spam by verifying calls as they pass through different networks, from the caller to the recipient.
This will help stop some scammers from manipulating their number to make the call appear more legitimate. But some businesses legitimately change the number displayed on caller ID to show their switchboard number or toll-free number, rather than a specific department or extension.
“The key thing here is it was never intended to be a silver bullet,” one analyst said of the new effort. “It was intended to be a tool to help.”
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