The pandemic is not done. The number of new infections — surely an undercount due to unreported home tests — again tops 75,000 per day. The number of hospitalizations has climbed 20 percent over the past two weeks. The Biden administration has warned there could be 100 million more Americans infected by early next year. Yet Congress seems unwilling to provide more money for basic responses such as tests and vaccines, even as it becomes increasingly clear that even mild cases can lead to dangerous long-term damage.
Yet there are positive developments to consider as well. Vaccinations and certainly boosters are not where they should be, but three out of four Americans have received at least a single dose and two-thirds are fully vaccinated. The Commonwealth Fund has estimated that, absent vaccines, an additional 2.3 million Americans would have died, and 17 million more would have been hospitalized. Public health measures such as masking have largely fallen out of favor, but they helped prevent a death toll that could have been even more terrible.
“A million is way too many people, but as a result of the work that has been done, through public health and vaccination, it’s a number that’s a lot lower than it might have been,” says David Fleming, a distinguished visiting fellow at the Trust for America’s Health. “If we did not do those things, we would not be looking at the 1 million death threshold, we’d be looking at the 3 million death threshold.”
Pressley, alongside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have repeatedly called on Biden to cancel $50,000 in student loan debt immediately via executive order on the premise that there is sufficient legal backing for the administration to do so.
The Fed researchers, using data from the New York Fed/Equifax Consumer Credit Panel, estimated the cost of two federal loan forgiveness proposals, one for $10,000 and another for $50,000. They found that limited forgiveness and placing income caps on who would be eligible would “distribute a larger share of benefits” to low-income borrowers while also reducing the cost of forgiveness.
Rep. Pressley has repeatedly stressed that women and people of color hold significant levels of student loan debt and that cancellation would represent a massively impactful form of relief given the disproportionate burden.
Tax cuts remain a powerful tool to entice people and firms, and the pandemic has triggered a new tax war. After the lockdowns, states and cities predicted unprecedented revenue drops. Instead, economies bounced back quickly from the pandemic, partly because of widespread adoption of remote work and extensive federal aid from the Trump and Biden administrations — hundreds of billions of dollars in unemployment benefits (which kept individuals spending money), business loans and funding for local governments to fight COVID-19.
The March 2021 Biden stimulus then provided local governments with an unprecedented $350 billion to bolster their budgets. The revenue gusher has produced state budget surpluses where experts had only recently predicted steep deficits.
Nearly a dozen states, mostly Republican-governed, have used the windfall to cut taxes. Idaho reduced its corporate and individual tax rates and shrank its income-tax brackets from seven to five, producing a $163 million tax cut for residents and businesses. The state also sent $220 million in rebates to everyone who filed tax returns in 2019.
Advocates for higher taxes often say that the levies don’t drive away wealthy individuals or businesses. When New Jersey raised taxes on the wealthy in November 2020, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said, “When people say folks are going to leave, there’s no research anywhere that suggests that happens.”
Yet New Jersey, with taxes on the wealthy and on businesses long ranking among the nation’s highest, ranked a dismal 42nd in economic growth over the five years preceding the pandemic, according to one study, and it has been an economic laggard for two decades. Voters in this overwhelmingly Democratic state showed their disapproval in giving incumbent Murphy an extremely narrow victory in his November reelection bid. Polls showed that most voters favored the Republican position on cutting taxes over Murphy’s.
Productivity gains in consumer electronics have not been able to exceed the erosion of the currency’s value.
Bills such as Build Back Better are just a piece of the reason — we have more coming. We have a huge demographic issue, and a huge Social Security and Medicare bill not yet paid. Shoveling out more money and writing more IOUs will not help matters.
The Federal Trade Commission said Monday that it is investigating the causes behind ongoing supply chain disruptions and how they are “causing serious and ongoing hardships for consumers and harming competition in the U.S. economy.”
The FTC said it is ordering Walmart, Amazon, Kroger, other large wholesalers and suppliers including Procter & Gamble Co., Tyson Foods and Kraft Heinz Co. “to turn over information to help study causes of empty shelves and sky-high prices.”
Orders also are being sent to C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc., Associated Wholesale Grocers, Inc. and McLane Co, Inc.
Fifteen state financial officers sent a letter to U.S. banks last week noting $600 billion in assets they pledge to take elsewhere if the financial institutions embrace corporate wokeism and prohibit financing to the fossil fuel industry.
Led by West Virginia Republican Treasurer Riley Moore, the group promised “collective action” in the form of an “economic boycott.”
Signatories to the letter putting banks on notice include chief financial officers from Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, Alabama, Texas and Kentucky, in addition to West Virginia.
The Biden administration is trying to prohibit California from receiving billions of dollars in new federal aid because, the administration claims, the state’s 2013 Public Employee Pension Reform Act (PEPRA) denied workers the right to bargain for changes to their retirement benefits. The move could undermine state-worker pension reforms passed over the last decade.
In a letter to the state, the Department of Labor says that the 2013 pension-reform act “significantly interferes” with the collective bargaining rights of public employees, including transit workers. As a result, California risks losing some $12 billion in transportation money, most of it from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill. The administration is strong-arming the state and its municipalities to choose between tens of billions of dollars in savings for a deeply indebted pension system and grants from Washington. And its move raises serious questions about similar reforms enacted by other states that allow collective bargaining by public employees, including New York and New Jersey.
The Labor Department’s ruling, California governor Gavin Newsom said in a letter to Walsh, “deprives financially beleaguered California public transit agencies that serve essential workers and our most vulnerable residents of critical support, including American Rescue Plan Act funds that those agencies need to survive through the pandemic.” Newsom called the decision a “complete reversal” from a 2019 ruling by the Labor Department, which held that the state’s pension reforms did not represent a violation of federal law.
While Democrats in Congress negotiate over trillions of dollars in new spending, the Biden Administration is quietly advancing its agenda through regulation. Witness a little-noticed proposed rule last week by the Labor Department that will add new political directives to your retirement savings.
The Administration says the rule will make it easier for retirement plans to offer 401(k) funds focused on ESG (environmental, social and governance) objectives. In fact, the rule will coerce workers and businesses into supporting progressive policies.
An important Trump Labor rule last fall reinforced that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (Erisa) requires retirement plan fiduciaries to act “solely in the interest” of participants. The rule prevented pension plans and asset managers from considering ESG factors like climate, workforce diversity and political donations unless they had a “material effect on the return and risk of an investment.”
The Biden DOL plans to scrap the Trump rule while putting retirement sponsors and asset managers on notice that they have a fiduciary duty to include ESG in investment decisions. The proposed rule “makes clear that climate change and other ESG factors are often material” and thus in many instances should be considered “in the assessment of investment risks and returns.”
Advanced refunding bonds allowed governments to refinance debt earlier, thus letting them take advantage of lower interest rates years sooner and save taxpayer money. The 2017 tax reform eliminated their tax-exempt status which effectively nixed their cost-saving value for governments. But the move increased federal government revenues by billions of dollars each year. Reinstating the bonds, according to a report from the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), would cost $11 billion over the next five years.
A federally subsidized taxable bond — what market watchers are calling BABs 2.0 — works differently. Unlike tax-exempt municipal bonds, BABs are taxable, and, as a result, open up the municipal market to new investors, such as pension funds or those living abroad. More buyers is a good thing, but BABs are also more expensive for governments. So to defray the added cost, the federal government in 2009 offered a direct subsidy of 35% of state and local governments’ interest payments on BABs.
BABs 2.0 would work similarly, but also lock in the federal subsidy — a much better deal for governments. They’re expected to cost the federal government more than $22.5 billion between 2022 and 2031, according to estimates from the JCT.
In recent articles, I have lamented poorly designed components of the Reconciliation Bill, from a poorly-designed “free childcare” program to a family leave plan that’s designed to be “free” rather than funded by the workers who benefit, to a Medicare drug benefit that’s planned to be implemented at the same time as Part A Medicare is facing insolvency, to a mandate that employers provide retirement plan access that leaves virtually all of the specifics up to a bureaucratic agency. And this just scratches at the surface of the expansive programs on tap if the bill is passed as currently drafted. But there’s one piece of legislation that advocates have been calling for, for years, which didn’t make the cut: an increase in the benefits for the poorest of the poor elderly and disabled who receive Supplemental Security Income, or SSI.
So why didn’t SSI make the cut, when the Democrats compiled their list of programs for the “American Family Plan”? Do some of these changes go too far, increase benefits too much? Did they want to avoid opening up a can of worms with respect to larger plan design issues with the system, for example, concerns that the children’s benefits have become an “alternative welfare system” providing benefits for children equal to those for adults, even with mild conditions such as ADHD, that mean no one wants to touch the system?
Or does an enhancement of SSI benefits simply fail to meet the Democrats’ objective of making voters happy with broad outlays of cash benefitting the middle class as well as the poor?
The Biden administration will need practically every Democratic representative in Congress to vote for its proposed $2 trillion package of tax increases, which would be the largest in 54 years. To gain that support, the president may have to season his legislation with some SALT. The bill, which raises corporate taxes and boosts capital-gains levies, among other things, doesn’t restore the full federal deduction for state and local taxes that Donald Trump’s 2017 tax-cut bill capped.
Democrats in key high-tax blue states, including New York representative Tom Suozzi and New Jersey representative Josh Gottheimer, have been complaining that Trump’s tax bill placed an undue burden on their states’ residents. Some have vowed not to support any tax legislation unless it reinstates the full SALT deduction. The problem: federal data show that restoring the deduction would overwhelmingly profit rich taxpayers—and lawmakers in many blue states have already raised their own levies on the rich.
Subsequent data have shown that the SALT changes fall heavily on the rich, while the vast majority of taxpayers in high-tax states have benefited from the Trump cuts. An analysis of 2018 New York tax returns found that the number of residents subject to the higher rates of the Alternative Minimum Tax declined to just 0.2 percent of all returns, down from 5.9 percent in 2017. Thanks to the doubling of the standard deduction, the number of New Yorkers itemizing their deductions shrank by nearly two-thirds that year, according to an Empire Center report. A recent report by the left-of-center Brookings Institution found that 57 percent of the benefits of restoring a full SALT deduction would go to the top 1 percent of households, providing them with an average tax cut of $33,000.