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House Expected to Pass COVID-19 Relief Bill Today...

Thus far, pretty much everything that Joe Biden has accomplished as president has been done through executive orders. Today, however, he is set to get his first major legislative victory, as the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on, and pass, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. It will then head over to the White House for Biden's signature, which will be appended well in advance of the expiration of extended unemployment benefits on March 14.

The shiniest part of the bill, and thus the part getting all the attention, is the $1,400 checks that many Americans will be getting, very probably in the next couple of weeks. Unlike the Trump era checks, these will not bear a presidential signature. Biden doesn't feel the delay that would entail is justified. He's also clever enough to know that most people will get their money via direct deposit, and will never see a check anyhow. And signature or not, people know who is in the White House now and who is not.

Meanwhile, because of the $1,400 checks (plus an additional $1,400 per dependent, regardless of age), there are other important elements that are flying under the radar. Among the big ones:

  • The bill raises the child tax credit from $2,000 up to as much as $3,600 and makes America's poorest families fully eligible, even if they did not have any income. Between this and the $1,400 payment, the poorest 20% of American families will see their incomes rise by more than 20%, while the number of children living in poverty will instantly be cut in half.

  • It will dump an amount of money equivalent to 9% of GDP into the economy. By contrast, the Obama-era stimulus, which proved to be inadequate, was equivalent to 5.5% of GDP.

  • Avoiding the potential landmine we noted a couple of weeks ago, the bill will grant a tax waiver on up to $10,200 of unemployment insurance benefits.

  • The pensions of 1 million workers, which were in danger due to mismanagement, will now be secure for the next 30 years.

  • Native Americans will get over $30 billion, the largest investment the government has ever made in that community.

  • The bill is also a backdoor Obamacare expansion. It increases subsidies for people making between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level, and also grants subsidies to those making more than 400% if those subsidies are needed to get the total cost of insurance to less than 8.5% of annual income. It is estimated that this will allow between 4 and 5 million more Americans to gain health insurance.

In order to keep the price tag from crossing $2 trillion, the child tax credits and the Obamacare subsidies are set to expire in 2 years. However, the Democrats hope and expect to eventually make those permanent. They could, of course, use a future reconciliation bill to extend them (up to 10 years). One might also expect their 2022 pitch to be "You better sustain a Democratic House if you want to keep these benefits."

In any case, despite the lack of a $15/hour minimum wage, and despite the expiration date of key provisions, this is being hailed as a huge win for Biden, but also for progressives. Here's what Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) had to say on Twitter:

When Barack Obama signed the ACA into law, Biden was famously caught on a hot mic whispering to the President that the bill was a "big fu**ing deal." That same line is being used all over the Internet today, with some justification. (Z)

...And They Passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act Yesterday

After some wrangling behind the scenes, the House has passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act. The bill would expand the powers of the National Labor Relations Board, allowing it to levy fines against companies that try to block union organizing, and also to extend collective bargaining rights to independent contractors (e.g., Uber drivers).

Labor unions, most obviously the AFL-CIO, are thrilled by this development. After all, they would love to add millions of new members. Businesses and business-oriented organizations, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, hate the bill. They say it will, "cost millions of American jobs, threaten vital supply chains, and greatly diminish opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses." Of course, they say that every time the rights of organized labor are expanded or strengthened, so consider taking that with at least a grain or two of salt.

Now the matter heads to the Senate, which has a little thing you may have heard of called the filibuster. On one hand, five House Republicans (Jeff Van Drew and Chris Smith, NJ, Brian Fitzpatrick, PA, John Katko, NY, and Don Young, AK) voted for the bill. So, maybe 10 Republican votes in the Senate can be wrangled and cloture can be invoked. Or maybe not. After all, 5 of 211 is 2.3%, whereas 10 of 50 is 20%. In other words, the bill would have to get nearly 10 times the Republican support in the Senate that it did in the House, relatively speaking, to overcome the filibuster. And the Republican Party is one that tends to put the concerns of corporations first and foremost.

Alternatively, of course, the Democrats could roll back the filibuster. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka hinted last week that some lobbying on that front was coming, and it would be surprising if he backed down now. For what it is worth, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Joe Biden, both having expressed their "support" for the filibuster in the last few days, both count blue-collar laborers among their key constituencies. (Z)

Greene, Other Trumpy House Members Dial Up the Obnoxiousness

In theory, every time the House makes a decision, all 435 voting members are supposed to cast a vote. That takes a long time, however. And so, for uncontroversial things, like "let's rename this post office" or "let's adjourn for the day," the presiding officer just asks the gallery for unanimous consent. As long as nobody objects, then that is recorded as a 435-0 vote for adjournment or for the non-controversial bill in question, and the members can get on with their days.

There is now a fly in the ointment, however. Actually about a dozen of them, led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). These ultra-Trumpy members are frustrated that the minority has virtually no power in the House, they are walking ids who make decisions with their gut rather than their heads, they love to "perform" for the people back home, and they are, to be blunt, jerks who care little about their colleagues. So, these folks have begun forcing roll-call votes on things that should not require one. This either wastes an hour or more of the House's time each time it happens, or else forces bills to be postponed until a later date.

Democrats are aggravated by these stunts, but so too are many of the Republicans. In addition to wasting time, this sort of procedural trickery poisons the waters going forward, and also opens the GOP to attacks that they are not serious about governing. At the moment, Republican leadership is attempting to use their persuasive powers to tame their unruly colleagues. In particular, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) has been assigned to "mentor" Greene. If the Trumpy House members keep acting out, however, then their Republican colleagues could strip the rest of them of their committee memberships (Greene already lost hers), or could even consider expelling one or more of them (not likely, but not inherently illegal). The Democrats, for their part, might consider changing the rules of the House to disallow these stunts or to make them more difficult to execute. At the moment, though, it's remarkable the House is getting as much done as it is, under the circumstances. (Z)

Arkansas Tries to Set Collision Course with Roe

Speaking of political stunts, the Republican-dominated Arkansas legislature has passed a harsh new anti-abortion law. And, on Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed the bill. If it takes effect, the law would make Arkansas the most restrictive state in the union, abortion-wise, as the procedure would be allowed only in order to save the life of the mother. If the mother was raped or was the victim of incest, she would nonetheless be legally required to carry the pregnancy to term.

With that said, the Arkansans clearly don't expect the bill to actually take effect. It doesn't kick in until 90 days after the legislature adjourns, by which time it will have been challenged in court, and there will be an injunction in place. The real goal, in theory, is to give the Supreme Court a case they can use to strike down Roe v. Wade. However, we doubt Hutchinson & Co. actually want to achieve that goal. Overturning Roe would deprive the GOP of a key wedge issue that they use to get donors to the polls and to pry dollars out of their pockets. If the Arkansans really wanted to tee things up for the Supreme Court, then they would give the Court a case that would allow them to slowly nibble away at abortion rights.

By contrast, it is exceedingly unlikely that SCOTUS would overturn Roe in one fell swoop, given the fallout that would attend that decision (think: the Dred Scott decision, which undermined the Court's authority for a generation). It is even more unlikely that the Court would uphold a law that forces women to deliver babies conceived due to rape or incest, which would just intensify the political firestorm. So, this Arkansas bill looks very much like political theater designed to convince anti-abortion voters that their Republican leaders are trying their little hearts out, but they just can't seem to overcome [the libs/the deep state/secularization/those damned Yankees/cancel culture/Cthulhu/the luck of the Irish/Meghan, Duchess of Sussex]. (Z)

Lindsey Graham, Racketeer?

It takes two to tango. It generally also takes two to racketeer. When the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (which then became the basis for many state-level racketeering laws) was passed by Congress in 1970, it was left deliberately broad because the bad guys can be hard to nail otherwise. One of the requirements, however, is that the person charged with racketeering must be part of a criminal organization. That sure sounds like you'd need to be a part of the Mafia, or MS-13, or the Las Vegas Raiders to qualify, but courts have interpreted the clause very broadly, such that any partnership between two individuals in service of a criminal endeavor is enough to clear the bar.

Earlier this week, we noted that racketeering is among the charges that Georgia authorities are considering charging Donald Trump with. They are much more likely to make that stick, however, if they can identify a confederate. So, who might that confederate be? It turns out that question may already have been answered, because the folks in Georgia are investigating Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for racketeering as well. Graham, you will recall, made his own "overturn the election results" phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) more than a week before Trump did.

We are not lawyers and we certainly aren't experts on Georgia racketeering law. However, Graham and Trump should be nervous. This particular crime was, once again, specifically formulated to grease the skids for successful prosecutions. And it carries big-time penalties, often decades rather than just years. It would also be well within the realm of possibility here that the game is to put pressure on the Senator in order to get him to flip on Trump. If there is anyone in Washington who is willing to throw anyone and everyone else under the bus to save his own neck, it's surely Lindsey Graham. (Z)

Republicans Endeavor to Overhaul Grassroots Fundraising

There are two key elements to grassroots fundraising for a political campaign. The first is that they need a way to actually collect the money—the easier it is for donors to pay, and the easier it is for the campaigns to collect and track the required FEC information, the better. The second is that they need to know, as best as possible, who to hit up with their sales pitches. You don't want to send "Build the wall!" solicitations to Bennington, VT, or "Fight to raise the minimum wage!" pitches to Mar-a-Lago. So, a central clearinghouse for e-mail addresses/contact info, along with a list of which donors have been hit up recently (and thus could use a "cooling off" period), is invaluable.

The Democrats have largely solved both of these problems. Collecting money was the easier half of the equation, particularly since Silicon Valley is 90% composed of liberals. Their ActBlue, launched in 2004, has collected more than $8 billion in donations and is now the heart and soul of the Party's fundraising. It took a bit longer to get all the contact information in one place, especially since the Clinton and Sanders campaigns didn't much feel like sharing in 2016, but now the blue team has largely gotten that part of its house in order, too. If you sign up for, say, Sen. Raphael Warnock's (D-GA) e-mail list, it won't be long before you're hearing from your good friends Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Jaime Harrison as well.

The Republicans, who were sustained by big-dollar donors for a very long time (e.g., Sheldon Adelson, the Kochs), were a bit late to the grassroots-fundraising party. Their answer to ActBlue, namely WinRed, was not launched until 2019. Our staff mathematicians tell us that means the Republicans lagged the Democrats by 15 years. If a week in politics is a lifetime, then that is 780 lifetimes. That's enough for 86 cats, with 6 lives to spare.

What the GOP has not solved, as yet, is the other part of the equation. When it comes to contact information, there are many databases out there, some compiled by various candidates' campaigns, others maintained by various vendors who will sell to any person or entity that ponies up the necessary money. That means that a lot of money is wasted by campaigns and PACs buying the same contact information over and over, and it also means that some donors get absolutely deluged with fundraising pitches, which can be a turn-off. And so, a group of high-ranking Republican operatives is going to get to work building some sort of central data repository, so as to catch up in an area where the Democrats currently have a big advantage.

That is much easier said than done, however. The single-biggest problem is something of a Catch-22 that the organizers face: This initiative is quite clearly an attempt to siphon off some of Donald Trump's fundraising power, thus weakening his ability to dictate the Party's agenda. However, the very best database of Republican donors currently extant, which will be essential to the success of this project, belongs to...Donald Trump. There is zero chance he hands that information over, since he knows full well he'd be shooting himself in the foot. Exactly how the GOP pooh-bahs plan to overcome this little problem is unknown. (Z)

So Much for Facebook's Political Ad Ban

At the moment, you can run political ads on Facebook to your heart's delight. And you could do that last March, as well. Or last August, for that matter. However, for 18 weeks, starting one week before the November election and continuing through last week, such ads were forbidden. At least, that was the official policy.

The truth is that the social media platform's enforcement of the ban had more holes in it than a 50-pound block of Swiss cheese. And so, a number of political groups managed to sidestep it, with the conservative super PAC Turning Point USA as the worst offender (though the left-leaning Service Employees International Union was not far behind). This was an ideal situation for these groups, since they got to run their ads without much risk of being elbowed out by others' ads.

There are two possible explanations here. The first is that the people who run Facebook are incompetent, and could not figure out that a super PAC—one whose sole raison d'être is to push conservative politics and politicians—is a political organization. The second is that Facebook doesn't really want to ban political ads; they just want to seem like they're doing so in order to avoid criticism and government scrutiny while continuing to cash those fat advertising checks.

We know which of these explanations we favor (hint: Facebook is not incompetent). The more that the platform plays games like this, though, the more quickly they will invite serious oversight from the federal government. Is that risk worth adding a few more millions to the Facebook bank account? Apparently, Mark Zuckerberg & Co. think it is. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar09 To Be Blunt, Roy's Out
Mar09 Senate Retirements Complicate Things for the GOP
Mar09 McConnell at Work on Succession Plan
Mar09 RNC Will Not Cease and Desist Using Trump's Image
Mar09 Vance Investigation Adds Second City
Mar09 The Republican War on Voting Has Commenced
Mar09 Biden Kinda, Sorta Wants to Keep the Filibuster
Mar08 Manchin Is Open to Making the Filibuster More Painful
Mar08 How Badly Is Cuomo Wounded?
Mar08 Bipartisanship Is Dead
Mar08 Biden Issues Executive Order on Voting
Mar08 Allen Weisselberg Is in the Crosshairs
Mar08 Willis Hires a Lawyer
Mar08 Trump Threatens the RNC, NRCC, and NRSC
Mar08 Special Election in Texas Will Be a Test of Trumpism
Mar08 Ohio Could Be a Key Senate Battleground Next Year
Mar08 People Have Had It with Political News
Mar07 Sunday Mailbag
Mar06 Saturday Q&A
Mar05 The Fine Art of Getting Things Done, Part I: The Senate
Mar05 The Fine Art of Getting Things Done, Part II: The Senator
Mar05 The Fine Art of Getting Away With It, Part I
Mar05 The Fine Art of Getting Away With It, Part II
Mar05 The Fine Art of Getting Away With It, Part III
Mar05 Trump/???? 2024
Mar04 House Passes H.R. 1
Mar04 Biden Agrees to Limit Checks
Mar04 Biden Is Being Cautious about Releasing Trump's Tax Returns to Congress
Mar04 Congress Is Being Even More Cautious than Biden
Mar04 Biden Calls the Governor of Texas a Neanderthal
Mar04 Statehood Bill for Puerto Rico Is Introduced
Mar04 Real Divide: Senate Republicans vs. House Republicans
Mar04 The Grift Is Everywhere
Mar04 Even the Grifters Get Grifted
Mar04 The Future of QAnon
Mar03 Abbott Pulls a Snow Job
Mar03 Today's (Probably) The Day
Mar03 Tomorrow's the Day
Mar03 Fox N' Crocks
Mar03 You Win Some...
Mar03 ...and You Lose Some
Mar02 What's Good for the Goose Isn't Necessarily What's Good for the Gander
Mar02 Biden Gets Another Cabinet Member, but Still No "Yea" Vote from Hawley
Mar02 A Tale of Two Speeches
Mar02 Two More Politicians Tease Senate Runs
Mar02 Census Delays Will Make Things a Little Messy
Mar02 Cuomo's in Deep Trouble
Mar02 Sarkozy's in Deeper Trouble
Mar01 Trump Wins Election
Mar01 Poll: Swing Voters Like the COVID-19 Relief Bill