Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Fiscal Stimulus Gridlock

The best can be said about a possible fiscal stimulus in the face of a renewed Covid-19 surge that is dragging the economy down as many areas shut down in various degrees is that at least a few hours ago the US Senate approved a one week continuing budget resolution to keep the fed govt functioning. In past years govt shutdown was a big deal, but with the current president threatening to seize power in a coup even in the face of the SCOTUS unanimously repudiating his final "Kraken" lawsuit, not to mention the positive drama of the FDA approving the Pfizer vaccine for US use, well, a govt shutdown right now does not look like such a big deal. But, hey, for at least the next week it will not happen, snore.

But we are facing a much more serious matter than this matter of just keeping the US fed govt going now, given that the US economy seems on the verge of possibly going into "double dip," as cut backs on economic activity spread as we see the coronavirus surging across the country. The House back in either April or May or thereabouts passed the HEROES bill that was a $3 trillion bill. Mitch McConnell in the Senate said no.

I do not precisely know when, but some months later, in an effort by House Speaker Pelosi, an attempted "compromise" bill was passed in the House of a bit over $2 trillion . This also led to no response from McConnell, and I note that it is not a matter of the Constitution that the Majority Leader of the Senate can single-handedly block for consideration bills passed by the House, much less presidential nominations for the Supreme Court as when in 2016 McConnell blocked even the consideration of Obama's nomination of the clearly centrist nominee, Merrick Garland.

Which brings us to now, with the economy on the verge of a likely double dip decline, and the debate in Congress now reduced to an approximately $900 million deal, something put together by a bipartisan  group of centrists, a deal that by now has dropped the obvious demand of handing out money directly to people as was done earlier this year and so many other nations have done, an approach now backed by the vast majority of professional economists, with Noah Smith recently arguing, arguably a bit over the top, that all of macroeconomics has simply become "Give them money."

Anyway, it has looked like maybe this reduced proposal, that does not do what Noah and the vast majority of economists say should be done, has bogged down and is not being passed.  It seems that the rarely seen bipartisan committee agreed upon a deal that had a temporary cover for McConnell's demand that businesses not be liable for making their workers sick from Covid-19 and some reduced amount for state and local govts.

But McConnell has rejected this bipartisan proposal, already much reduced from the earlier bills passed by the House. Why he has done so is the question, although he has invoked both wanting a full liabitily protection along with a larger cutback for state and local aid.  At this point we must note that much is up in the air. Yes, Joe Biden will indeed be inaugurated as the legal President of the United States at noon on 1/20/21. But many will be contesting that, with half of Trump voters so out of touch with reality to think that Trump will actually be taking that oath of office on Jan. 20.

So obviously McConnell is playing the long game, having just gotten reelected in Kentucky. I think he is planning to replay what he die in 2009 and after, simply oppose anything Biden proposes in an effort to gain against him in 2022 and then oust him in 2024.  We have people like Ted Cruz saying the Senate should not approve any cabinet appointee of Biden.  Presumably Biden could imitate Trump and simply appoint his people on an "Acting" basis and proceed to govern. 

Frankly the bottom line seems to be that he wants to reprise how he played things after 2008, complete opposition to any admin proposal with the hope that the economy will do badly so the GOP can do well in future elections, with an eye to bringing down the economy as the coronavirus worsens, thus bringing back a hope for Trump or some other Republican in 2024. Given all the immediate noncertainties in the political sphere, how this all turns out remains very much up in the air right now.

Barkley Rosser


john c. halasz said...

"the NEROES bill"

a good description of the role of Pelosi and the heartless political games she has been playing in all this mess. said...

The N has been changed to the accurate H. Thanks for catching that, John. said...

I must note that my post showed many efforts by Pelosi to get aid to people suffering in the current situation, dating back to last spring, with Mitch McCoannell blocking all of these, which I described at length in my post. But the only comment here by John C.H. was about how I showed what a bad actor Pelosi has been.

What can I say beyond pointing this absurdity out?

john c. halasz said...

Did you not pay attention to more recent events, Barkley. Pelosi engaged in talks before the election with Mnuchin and an offer of a $1.8 tn deal was on the table,including most crucially $250bn in aid for state and local governments. Trump went back and forth on the issue, since he's completely erratic, but she was negotiating with his treasury sec. and thus he had tacit authorization, yet yet she kept on refusing to budge from $2.2 tn in the "HEROES" act,offering just a series of increasingly lame excuses. Did you miss the clip where Wolf Blitzer of all people challenged her on the matter and she melted down? Only one congressman, Ro Khanna, piped up and said take the damn deal and he's from a Silicon Valley district so his constituents weren't hurting much. Even if McConnell had blocked the deal and Trump had failed to follow through, it would have been on them. But she just played politics with the lives and livelihoods of millions of ordinary Americans because she didn't want him to claim a victory and perhaps win the election. As it was there were 27 congressional seats which were rated toss-up by pollsters and analysts and the Democrats lost every single one. That's sharp political leadership! Nancy Pelosi has never been anything but a wealthy San Fransisco housewife and the cold heartedness she displayed here, speaks to her (lack of) conviction and utter irresponsibility. And these are the sorts of people you'd want to support and admire? said...

Um, John, the House has passed several versions of this now, moving towards the GOP position, but McConnell still refuses to do anything. I do not think there is any question who the guilty party is here, and it is not Pelosi.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Democrats resigned to dropping local aid in COVID-19 relief bill

via @BostonGlobe - December 15

WASHINGTON (AP) — As top Washington negotiators reach for a long-delayed agreement on COVID-19 relief, rank-and-file Democrats appear increasingly resigned to having to drop, for now, a scaled-back demand for fiscal relief for states and local governments whose budgets have been thrown out of balance by the pandemic.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin by phone Monday evening and continues to press for help for struggling states and localities. But top Democratic allies of President-elect Joe Biden came out in support of a $748 billion plan offered by a bipartisan group of lawmakers and hinted they won't insist on a pitched battle for state and local aid now.

“We cannot afford to wait any longer to act. This should not be Congress’ last COVID relief bill, but it is a strong compromise that deserves support from both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate," said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. “We cannot leave for the holidays without getting relief to those Americans who need it.”

The message from Coons, a confidant of Biden, and a similar message from Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., came as a bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a detailed COVID-19 aid proposal in hopes it would serve as a model for their battling leaders to follow as they try to negotiate a final agreement.

But the group was unable to forge a compromise on GOP-sought provisions shielding businesses from COVID-19-related lawsuits, a key priority of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican is pressing a lowest-common-denominator approach that would drop the lawsuit shield idea for now if Democrats agree to drop a $160 billion state and local aid package.

Pelosi has insisted for months that state and local aid would be in any final bill, but as time is running out, Democrats appear unwilling to hold the rest of the package hostage over the demand. Several Democrats appeared at the bipartisan news conference endorsing the $748 billion package.

“I found it interesting that they separated out the state and local and liability provisions. Senator McConnell had suggested that earlier," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “Seems to me that we’re making some progress on it."

Cornyn, a McConnell lieutenant, spoke after a dozen or so lawmakers unveiled two bills. One is a $748 billion aid package containing money for struggling businesses, the unemployed, schools and vaccine distribution. There is also $45 billion for transportation and transit assistance, funding for rural internet service and help for the Postal Service, among other provisions. The other bill proposes a $160 billion aid package for state and local governments and a modified liability shield that is backed by Republicans and Democratic moderate Joe Manchin of West Virginia, but it is probably too politically freighted to advance.

The path forward for their proposals — and for COVID-19 aid more generally — remains unclear, though Cornyn said the bipartisan plan has lots of “good stuff” for any yearend agreement. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Any agreement is likely to be forged in parallel negotiations between Pelosi and Mnuchin — closely watched by McConnell.

Outstanding issues in the leadership talks include a potential second round of direct payments to individuals, a plan for $300-per-week bonus unemployment benefits, state and local aid, and the GOP-sought liability shield against COVID-19-related lawsuits.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she hoped that Capitol Hill leaders and the administration will use the proposals as the basis for a COVID-19 relief package “that is urgently needed by our struggling families, our hard-hit small businesses, our stressed-out health care providers, our overwhelmed Postal Service, our challenged schools, and so many others.”

Lawmakers also worked to finalize a yearend catchall funding package that will be the basis for the last significant legislation of the Trump presidency.

There's a hoped-for deadline of midnight Friday to deliver the completed package to President Donald Trump, which is when a partial government shutdown would arrive with the expiration of last week's temporary funding bill. But there's no guarantee that the massive yearend measure will be completed in time. If the talks drag, further temporary bills could be needed.

Negotiations on the $1.4 trillion catchall spending bill are “essentially finished," said a congressional aide participating in the talks. While details are closely held, “the status quo is prevailing." That means Trump would get another $1.4 billion or so for a final installment to continue construction of his long-sought U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Republicans have succeeded in killing a $12 billion plan to break last year's budget mini-agreement by using accounting maneuvers to pad veterans health care funding to accommodate big cost increases from expanding access to health care services from private providers. Instead, a different set of moves is being employed to provide for equivalent spending increases for other domestic programs.

The post-election lame-duck session is the last chance to wrap up the unfinished work this year, a goal of all involved, though they have been slow until now to forge the often-tricky compromises required to pull the measure together.

Pelosi has not thrown in the towel on her drive to obtain state and local aid, which was part of the almost $2 trillion CARES Act that passed the Senate unanimously in March. But many Republicans are adamantly against the idea now. said...

Well, the latest is an even more reduced deal, down to $740 billion or thereabouts, with the two sticking points of state/local aid and McConnell's desired exemption of liability for Covid cases by workers pulled out into separate bills. Apparently McConnell is willing to sign off on this more limited bill, and Pelosi is renewing negotiations with Mnuchin.

There also needs to be a broader budget deal by Friday or there will be another one of those wonderful government shutdowns, and, well, Congress wants to take a Christmas break.

john c. halasz said...

BTW, you might want to google "Fred C. Dobbs" handle to see where he's coming from.

In the meantime. Pelosi's net approval rating is -17% and 43% blame her for the failure to pass a bailout bill vs. 16% for Trump. That is, if you want to believe polling which notably failed in this election.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

'Where I'm coming from' is
mostly just reporting what
main-stream media is writing.

Anonymous said...

BTW, you might want to google "Fred C. Dobbs" handle

[ By the way, this is vicious rubbish. Try thinking; Dobbs thinks. ] said...


The problem is not Trump or Pelosi. It has been McConnell. Did not see any poll on his role. If somehow people are not aware of that and think it is Pelosi, they are ignorant fools. But then 43% ia about the percent that support Trump.

So, John, all through this your comments have just been a pile of pure Trumpshit. Sorry, but totally embarrassing. I think they would love you on OANN or Newsmaxx.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Congressional Leaders Close In on a Stimulus Deal

The $900 billion plan would include another round of direct
stimulus payments to Americans and additional unemployment benefits.

Senator Mitch McConnell is said to have told Republicans that Georgia’s
senators are “getting hammered”
for Congress’s failure to act.

Fed chair says the case for more pandemic aid ‘is very, very strong

Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, said the economy still needs more fiscal support as virus cases continue to spike, millions remain out of work and funding has lapsed for several programs that were helping households and businesses stay afloat.

“The case for fiscal policy right now is very, very strong and I think that’s widely understood,” Mr. Powell said on Wednesday, speaking after the Fed’s final policy meeting of the year.

“Now that we can kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel, it would be bad to see people losing their business, their life’s work, even generations’ worth of work,” because they could not hold on for a few more months.

Mr. Powell has carefully, but consistently, urged Congress to provide more financial help to businesses and families that have been struggling amid the pandemic while promising to use all of the Fed’s tools to help cushion the economy.

He also downplayed concerns about the debt and the deficit — which many Republican lawmakers have cited as a reason to forego another large spending package — saying now was not the time to be worried about spending borrowed money.

“From my way of thinking the time to focus on that is when the economy is strong, unemployment is low and taxes are pouring in and there’s room to get on a sustainable path because the economy is doing well,” he said. ...

Anonymous said...

Don't sugarcoat it, Sundance!

Fred C. Dobbs said...

A succinct comment was made on Morning Joe this am
that post-election Dems are (somewhat) willing to
settle for less: 'Something is better than nothing.'

Pre-election that would not have been possible,
even for centrist Dems. And still not acceptable
to Progressives, but probably is to many centrists,
though less than ideal.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Democrats press for more emergency aid to states as leaders near a stimulus deal

NY Times - December 17

... In order to reach an agreement, Republicans appear to have dropped their demand for a sweeping coronavirus liability shield for businesses in exchange for Democrats agreeing to exclude a direct funding stream for state and local governments that are facing fiscal crises, according to two officials familiar with the discussions.

But Democrats were pushing to provide billions of dollars for governors to use for health-related expenses during the pandemic — including vaccine distribution — and extend emergency federal assistance for states and local governments through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Republicans who have fiercely opposed sending more aid to states and cities were resisting the moves, concerned about leaving FEMA with enough money for future natural disasters and about the lack of restrictions on how the funds are spent.

Some Republicans — in particular Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania — were pushing to curtail the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authority, which Democrats argue would hamper the Biden administration’s ability to continue supporting the country’s economic recovery. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Looks like Dems are not insisting on
federal relief for states' 'massive'
pension liabilities anymore, or am
I missing something?

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Snags on COVID-19 relief may force weekend sessions

WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s a hurry up and wait moment on Capitol Hill as congressional negotiators on a must-pass, almost $1 trillion COVID-19 economic relief package struggled through a handful of remaining snags Thursday. The holdups mean a weekend session now appears virtually certain, and a top lawmaker warned that a government shutdown this weekend can’t be ruled out.

All sides appeared hopeful that the wrangling wouldn’t derail the legislation, even as the chances for announcing a deal Thursday slipped away. After being bogged down for much of the day, negotiators reported behind-the-scenes progress Thursday night.

The central elements of a hard-fought compromise appeared in place: more than $300 billion in aid to businesses; a $300-per-week bonus federal jobless benefit and renewal of soon-to-expire state benefits; $600 direct payments to individuals; vaccine distribution funds and money for renters, schools, the Postal Service and people needing food aid.

But a temporary funding bill runs out Friday at midnight and the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, Sen. John Thune, said if there isn’t a deal by then, some Republicans might block a temporary funding bill — causing a low-impact partial weekend shutdown — as a means to keep the pressure on.

Lawmakers were told to expect to be in session and voting this weekend.

“We must not slide into treating these talks like routine negotiations to be conducted at Congress’ routine pace,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. “The Senate is not going anywhere until we have COVID relief out the door.”

The hangups involved an effort by GOP conservatives to curb emergency lending programs by the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve, a Democratic demand to eliminate local government matching requirements for COVID-related disaster grants, and myriad smaller disagreements over non-pandemic add-ons, lawmakers and aides said. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Biden Faces Challenge as Congress Drops State Aid to Secure Stimulus

NY Times - December 17

WASHINGTON — As lawmakers race to put the final touches on a $900 billion bipartisan stimulus package, one thing is becoming clear: Congress has left a significant challenge for the incoming president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., and his efforts to revive the faltering economy.

To seal the deal after months of struggle, lawmakers agreed to exclude a direct stream of money for state and local governments, which Republicans objected to as a blue state “bailout” but Democrats said was needed to prevent job cuts and economic pain.

Mr. Biden has promised to help local governments, which are struggling with plunging tax revenue and increased costs, creating huge budget gaps that have already resulted in 1.3 million state and local jobs lost since March. Economists warn that, without further help, states and cities could further slow the economic recovery by cutting more jobs and spending.

“States and cities are already facing large, large budget shortfalls this year,” Mr. Biden said this month. “They’ve already laid off more than a million workers. Even more teachers, firefighters, cops will lose their jobs unless federal government steps up now.”

As people steer clear of hotels, restaurants and sporting events because of the coronavirus pandemic, the plunge in economic activity has walloped tax revenue in many states, particularly those that rely heavily on tourism or on oil, coal and other sources of energy whose prices have fallen from reduced demand. Budgets have been further strained by spending on social assistance programs, like unemployment, and other pandemic-related costs, like safety measures in public buildings.

With most states required to balance their budgets, governments have turned to cutting jobs and other services rather than raising taxes on struggling households and businesses. The state and local government jobs shed since March — primarily in education — are a far higher toll than during the Great Recession, when cities and states laid off 800,000 workers from 2008 to 2013. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Democrats had made state aid a priority for a second round of stimulus, a demand that became a sticking point with Republicans. A centrist group of senators, trying to break the impasse, had included $160 billion in a direct stream of aid for state and local governments as part of a compromise bill. But congressional leaders excluded that funding this week. In exchange, they decided to drop a Republican priority, shielding businesses that opened amid the pandemic from certain lawsuits, to try to get the broader $900 billion package approved by both chambers and signed by President Trump.

The deal is not yet final and could still be derailed by disputes over last-minute details, including a Republican effort that would prevent the Federal Reserve from restarting some pandemic-era loan programs without congressional permission. It is expected to include money for public transit authorities and potentially additional emergency assistance for state and local governments, though Republicans are opposing that aid, which would run through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The compromise is also expected to include billions of dollars for education and health programs, which state and local governments will most likely help distribute.

But the package is not expected to contain funding anywhere close to what Democrats and many economists say is necessary to avoid more public sector layoffs in the years to come. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Return of the Phony Deficit Hawks

NY Times - Paul Krugman - December 17

Suddenly, Republicans are pretending to care about debt.

Mitch McConnell wants so much for Republicans to win two Senate seats,
he might allow struggling Americans to get short-term help.

It looks as if Congress will soon pass a much-needed economic relief (not stimulus) bill — something that will help distressed Americans get through the next few months, while we wait for widespread vaccination to set the stage for economic recovery. That’s good news, because something is better than nothing, even though what we know about the legislation says that it’s going to be deeply flawed. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Stimulus negotiations come down to the wire with Friday’s deadline

Congressional leaders and staff are staring down a midnight deadline to reach agreement on a $900 billion coronavirus relief package and approve an omnibus government funding package before the government shuts down.

As of Thursday evening, lawmakers and aides were still wrangling over the final details of the emerging $900 billion agreement, which is expected to provide billions of dollars for the distribution of a vaccine and struggling American families, small businesses, schools, hospitals and other institutions.

The emerging package was expected to include direct payments of $600 for American families and children — half the amount of the stimulus checks issued last spring — as well as an extension of more generous unemployment programs.

The final sticking points including wrestling over a push from Republicans, led by Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, to limit the power of the Federal Reserve to provide credit to businesses, municipalities or other institutions in the future, both by rescinding money earmarked to support Fed lending programs and preventing the central bank from restarting them using different funds.

The programs, which were backed with $454 billion that was allocated to Treasury in the previous stimulus package, were set to end on Dec. 31, after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced they would sunset and asked the Fed to return any unused funds. Mr. Toomey has pushed to restrict those programs even further by including language that would prevent the Fed from restarting five loan programs — or anything that resembled them.

Democrats were outraged at the push to include the language, charging that it was an attempt to undermine the incoming Biden administration and deprive of it of critical tools to bolster economic recovery after President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes office in January.

Republicans have also resisted a last-ditch effort by Democrats to provide emergency aid to states through disaster funds administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, charging that it would drain a critical disaster relief fund and would be too expensive.

Negotiators, according to officials briefed on the discussions, were also debating how long the unemployment benefits should last, the eligibility parameters for a direct stimulus check, and how to allocate funds for other objectives, including struggling theater and performance venues.

With funding set to lapse at midnight, it is unclear whether lawmakers will approve a stopgap funding bill to prevent a shutdown or just allow funding to lapse while they race to hammer out a final agreement. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Breaking News

Top senators appeared to strike an agreement on the central bank’s
lending powers as they struggled to clear away the last sticking
points in the $900 billion compromise plan.

Lawmakers Resolve Fed Dispute as They Race to Close Stimulus Deal

NY Times = December 19

WASHINGTON — Senators broke through an impasse late Saturday night over a Republican effort to curtail the powers of the Federal Reserve, clearing away what had been seen as the final hurdle to a deal on a $900 billion stimulus package as lawmakers raced against a Sunday-night deadline to avoid a government shutdown.

With time running out for a compromise, Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, agreed to narrow his effort to rein in the central bank, according to three aides familiar with the discussion. All three aides, speaking on the condition of anonymity, noted that the precise language was still being finalized.

Mr. Toomey had sought to bar the Fed and Treasury Department from setting up any loan program similar to those established this year that have helped to keep credit flowing to corporate, municipal and medium-size business borrowers during the recession brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The agreed-upon alternative, which was still being drafted near midnight on Saturday, aides familiar with the process said, would bar only programs that were more or less exact copycats of the ones newly employed in 2020.

The agreement was a critical breakthrough for lawmakers who have been racing to complete the emergency plan to rush direct payments, unemployment benefits and food and rental assistance to millions of Americans, as well as provide relief to businesses and funds for vaccine distribution. While negotiators were still wrangling over a number of smaller issues, the Federal Reserve language had emerged as the thorniest sticking point to a final agreement.

“If things continue on this path, and nothing gets in the way, we’ll be able to vote tomorrow,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, told reporters as he left the Capitol shortly before midnight. “House and Senate.”

In an indication that a final deal was close, House leaders notified lawmakers to expect votes as soon as early Sunday afternoon.

President Trump, who has been absent from the frenzied negotiations on the measure, weighed in on Twitter, exhorting Congress to “GET IT DONE” and provide “more money in direct payments.”

The emerging deal would send direct payments of $600 to many Americans and provide enhanced federal jobless payments of $300 per week until early spring. It would also provide hundreds of billions of dollars to prop up small businesses, schools and other institutions struggling amid the pandemic. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Lawmakers reach compromise over GOP proposal to rein in Fed’s powers, clearing path for a stimulus package deal

Washington Post via MSN - December 20

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Deal on Fed removes obstacle to agreement on COVID relief

AP via @BostonGlobe - December 20

... The $900 billion package was being finished as the pandemic delivered its most fearsome surge yet, killing more than 3,000 victims per day and straining the health care system. While vaccines were on the way, most people wouldn’t get them for months. Jobless claims were on the rise.

The emerging agreement would deliver more than $300 billion in aid to businesses as well as the extra $300-per-week for the jobless and renewal of state benefits that would otherwise expire right after Christmas. It included $600 direct payments to individuals; vaccine distribution funds; and money for renters, schools, the Postal Service and people needing food aid.

It would be the first significant legislative response to the pandemic since the landmark CARES Act passed virtually unanimously in March, delivering $1.8 trillion in aid, more generous $600 per week bonus jobless benefits and $1,200 direct payments to individuals.

The governmentwide appropriations bill would fund agencies through next September. That measure was likely to provide a last $1.4 billion installment for President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall as a condition of winning his signature.


Washington Post: ... However, at 12:18 a.m. on Sunday, President Trump tweeted that Congress needs to give “more money in direct payments.” The Washington Post reported last week that White House aides talked Trump out of issuing a public statement demanding stimulus checks as big as $2,000, telling the president such a move could derail negotiations on the broader relief package. His tweet early Sunday signals that the president may not have given up on his demand. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

In other news...

Write shorter messages

via @BostonGlobe - December 19

... People don’t have enough time, and they receive too many communications. The average professional spends 28 percent of their work week — over 11 hours — reading and answering email. The average person communicates more than 90 times per day by text and more than 100 times per day by email. Every message received demands attention and time from people who are already too busy.

Communicators too often appear oblivious to this reality by sending long and poorly organized written messages. We’ve all been guilty of this. But writing messages without a keen awareness of readers’ limited time and attention creates two problems.

One, these messages may not be read or understood. They immediately fail to achieve their purpose.

Two, even if they are read, they impose an unkind tax on each reader’s time. Although this per-message tax may seem small, it quickly adds up. Imagine you receive 120 emails every day and each is three paragraphs long. It takes about 20 seconds to read a paragraph as long as this one, meaning reading all 120 emails will require two hours each day. If every message was one paragraph shorter, you would save at least 40 minutes every day. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Lawmakers eye swift action on stimulus deal Sunday after resolving major impasse

Washington Post via @BostonGlobe - December 20

Senior congressional lawmakers said agreement on a long-awaited stimulus bill could come as early as Sunday, as negotiators raced to finalize an economic relief package that has proved elusive for months.

However, several policy disputes remained outstanding, according to multiple aides close to negotiations granted anonymity to discuss the fluid talks, which could push the timeline back again.

The push for an approximately $900 billion relief plan gained new momentum Saturday night as lawmakers resolved a dispute over a Republican plan to rein in the Federal Reserve. The disagreement had emerged as a chief obstacle to an agreement, but Democratic leaders and Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., announced late Saturday that they had reached an understanding acceptable to both sides.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., told lawmakers to expect votes in the House on Sunday related to funding the government and "further coronavirus relief legislation." Hoyer also said votes could occur late Sunday evening.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., a member of Senate Republican leadership, also said on "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace" that the budget deal would be completed on Sunday.

"This gets done today. No more delays. We're not leaving until we have relief for the American people," Barrasso said.

Still, some smaller hurdles could still be under discussion, according to multiple aides close to negotiations granted anonymity to discuss the fluid talks. For instance, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told Democratic lawmakers Saturday that the parties remained divided over how much aid to provide for hungry Americans. No compromise had been announced on other contentious issues, such as an eviction moratorium that Democrats want to extend and Republicans have pushed to let expire.

Even if leaders are able to resolve remaining sticking points on Sunday, it may take more time for congressional staff to draft those agreements into legislative text and prepare the massive bill for votes in the House and Senate. Lawmakers had also not yet released text of the agreement between senior Democrats and Toomey over the central bank.

Congress has until Sunday at midnight to approve new legislation or parts of the federal government will shut down on Monday. Lawmakers had hoped to vote this weekend on legislation to fund the government along with the broader relief package. Still, bill language had materialized by Sunday morning. ...

The emerging legislative package is expected to devote hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency aid to small businesses and jobless Americans; send stimulus payments worth $600 per person to millions of Americans; and allocate tens of billions of dollars to an array of other critical needs, such as transportation agencies, distressed renters, and hungry people.

"I believe there's going to be a deal. There's always sticking points, but the big one was resolved last night," Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said on CNN on Sunday.

Lawmakers were also finalizing parts of the package related to unemployment benefits for tens of millions of Americans. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Congress Strikes Long-Sought Stimulus Deal to Provide $900 Billion in Aid

NY Times - December 20

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders reached agreement on Sunday on a $900 billion stimulus package that would provide direct payments and jobless aid to struggling Americans and badly needed funds for small businesses, hospitals, schools and vaccine distribution, overcoming months of stalemate on a measure intended to boost the pandemic-battered economy.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, announced the agreement Sunday evening on the Senate floor, declaring, “We can finally report what our nation has needed to hear for a very long time: More help is on the way.”

The agreement, struck after a renewed flurry of talks broke a partisan logjam that had persisted since the summer, came hours before the federal government was set to run out of funds, and it was not yet clear when the House and Senate would clear it for President Trump. Once drafted, it was expected to be merged with a sweeping catchall spending measure that would keep the government funded for the remainder of the fiscal year, creating a $2.3 trillion behemoth whose passage will be Congress’s last major act before adjourning for the year.

The agreement is expected to provide stimulus payments of $600 to American adults and children and revive supplemental federal unemployment benefits at $300 per week — half the level of aid delivered by the $2.2 trillion stimulus law enacted in March, as the coronavirus pandemic’s devastating health and economic impact was just coming into focus.

It would extend two federal unemployment programs that expanded and extended regular benefits, and would have lapsed next week without action by Congress. The agreement will most likely provide for rental and food assistance, as well as billions of dollars for schools and small businesses, reviving the Paycheck Protection Program, a federal loan program that lapsed this year.

Notably absent from the final compromise were the two thorniest policy impediments that had stood in its way for months. In order to secure a deal just before Christmas and allow Congress to adjourn, Republicans agreed to drop a sweeping coronavirus liability shield and Democrats agreed to omit a direct stream of aid to state and local governments. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Top congressional leaders announce agreement on COVID-19 relief package, government funding bill

via @BostonGlobe - December 20

WASHINGTON (AP) — Top negotiators appear on the brink Sunday of agreeing to long-delayed legislation to deliver a new round of aid to pandemic-slammed businesses, $300 bonus jobless benefits and a $600 direct payment to most Americans, an aid package that is smaller than Democrats and President-elect Joe Biden would like.

The must-pass measure, coming in at more than $900 billion, is expected to be released late Sunday and would be brought immediately to the House floor for a vote. It includes tens of billions of dollars to pay for distributing vaccines, help schools reopen, and bail out struggling transit systems and the Postal Service. ...

The virus relief measure was finally nearing passage amid a frightening spike in coronavirus cases and deaths and accumulating evidence that the economy was struggling.

Late-breaking decisions would limit $300 per week bonus jobless benefits — one half the supplemental federal unemployment benefit provided under the CARES Act in March — to 10 weeks instead of 16 weeks as before. The direct $600 stimulus payment to most people would be half the March payment, subject to the same income limits in which an individual's payment begins to phase out after $75,000.

President Donald Trump was supportive, particularly of the push for providing more direct payments. “GET IT DONE,” he said in a late-night tweet.

It would be the first significant legislative response to the pandemic since the $1.8 trillion CARES Act passed virtually unanimously.

The COVID-19 legislation was held up by months of dysfunction, posturing and bad faith. But talks turned serious last week as lawmakers on both sides finally faced the deadline of acting before leaving Washington for Christmas.

The measure was being added to a $1.4 trillion spending bill and combined with lots of other unfinished work, including previously stalled legislation to extend tax breaks, authorize water projects, and address the problem of surprise sky-high medical bills for out-of-network procedures.

It would be virtually impossible for lawmakers to read and fully understand the sprawling legislation before a House vote. Senate action would follow. ...

The emerging agreement on virus aid would deliver more than $300 billion to businesses and provide money for vaccine distribution, renters, schools, the Postal Service and people needing food aid.

The governmentwide appropriations bill would fund agencies through next September. That measure was likely to provide a last $1.4 billion installment for Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall as a condition of winning his signature.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Here’s what’s in the new $900 billion stimulus package

Washington Post via @BostonGlobe - December 20

WASHINGTON - Congressional leaders brokered a deal on a roughly $900 billion relief bill Sunday night, with promises to pass the legislation as soon as possible.

The bill would extend aid to millions of struggling households through stimulus checks, enhanced federal unemployment benefits, aid for small businesses, schools, and child care, as well as for vaccine distribution.

The bill comes at a critical time for the recovery as the coronavirus pandemic is overwhelming health-care systems and scores of Americans were set to lose federal aid by the end of the year. Bill language was released late Sunday, and The Washington Post confirmed some details of what's in and out of the bill.

In: Stimulus checks; jobless benefits; aid for businesses, schools and child care; money for vaccine distribution

- Stimulus checks

The legislation includes $600 stimulus checks per person, including adults and children. That means a family of four would receive $2,400, up to a certain income threshold.

The size of the payment decreases for people who earned more than $75,000 in the 2019 tax year. The check disappears altogether for those who earned more than $99,000.

The size of the checks, or their existence at all, had been a point of contention over weeks of negotiations. The Post reported last week that White House aides talked Trump out of issuing a public statement demanding stimulus checks as big as $2,000 out of fear he would derail the negotiations. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., have also urged larger checks. Some previous proposals did not include checks at all.

- Jobless benefits

Congress will extend unemployment benefits of up to $300 per week for up to 11 weeks. The benefit could kick in as early as Dec. 27 and run at least through March 14.

An unemployment benefits program for contract and gig workers, which is set to expire at the end of the year, would also be extended for 11 weeks.

About 20.6 million people are still on some form of unemployment aid, though officials say that number is inflated by duplicate claims and issues tied to backlogs in state unemployment systems. Weekly jobless claims have been back on the rise in recent weeks as families head into the holiday season.

The Cares Act provided $600 in enhanced weekly unemployment benefits. Those benefits expired at the end of July, affecting nearly 30 million workers.

Without action from Congress, another benefits cliff would have affected about 12 million Americans, including those on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the supplemental insurance for gig and self-employed workers, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, the unemployment insurance extension available for people who have exhausted regular benefits after what is usually about six months.

Over the summer, President Donald Trump approved an additional $300 in emergency jobless benefits. That money quickly ran out.

- Relief for businesses

The bill includes more than $284 billion for first and second forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, expanded PPP eligibility for nonprofits and news outlets and modifications to the program to serve small businesses, nonprofits and independent restaurants. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Businesses that received PPP loans and had them forgiven will also be allowed to deduct the costs covered by those loans on their federal tax returns. While the issue had been a point of contention, John Thune, R-S.D., the No. 2 ranking Republican senator said the costs would be deductible under the final agreement.

The package also provides $15 billion in funds for live venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions.

The deal includes $20 billion for targeted grants through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.

The package also includes a tax break for corporate meal expenses urged by the White House and denounced by Democrats. Dubbed the "three martini lunch" tax deduction by opponents, the tax break was promoted by Trump as a way to revive the restaurant industry.

Lawmakers said they reserved some of the PPP funds for "very small" businesses as well as lending through community-based lenders and minority depository institutions.

- Emergency rental assistance and eviction moratoriums

The would extend by one month a moratorium on evictions that was slated to expire at the end of the year. The incoming Biden administration can extend the deadline further.

The bill also includes $25 billion in emergency assistance to renters, though it remains unclear how the money will be distributed.

- Money for vaccine distribution

In a Sunday night statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the package includes billions of dollars to accelerate vaccine distribution and carry out a national testing and tracing strategy. Schumer and Pelosi said billions were "reserved specifically for combating the disparities facing communities of color, and to support our heroic health care workers and providers."

- School funding

Colleges and schools will have $82 billion to cover HVAC repair and replacement and to reduce the risk of coronavirus infections and reopen classrooms.

Lawmakers also struck a deal on $10 billion for child-care assistance.

- Other categories

Schumer and Pelosi said the package includes legislation to end surprise billing for emergency and scheduled care; provides a tax credit to support employers offering paid sick leave; $13 billion in increased food stamps and nutrition benefits; $7 billion to increase access to broadband.

In their statement, Schumer and Pelosi said the bill did provide targeted funds including emergency resources for schools, $27 billion for state highways, struggling transit agencies, Amtrak and airports; and $22 billion for the health-related expenses of state, local, tribal and territorial governments. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Out: Aid for state and local governments; corporate liability protections

- Aid to state and local governments

The bill does not have new money for state and local governments. Democrats had initially pushed for $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments. Mayors and governors have been sounding alarms over budget shortfalls and the hard choices they may be forced to make without help from Washington. States that rely heavily on the tourism or energy industries have suffered some of the hardest hits and are warning of tax hikes, public-sector layoffs and cuts to public programs.

The bill would extend the deadline for states and cities to use unspent money approved for them by the Cares Act, giving governments under year's end before the money must be returned.

- Liability protections

One of the most fought-over issues between Republicans and Democrats revolved around whether companies can be sued by workers over virus outbreaks. Democrats wanted protections for workers, while Republicans warned against a slate of lawsuits that could ensue.

For weeks, lawmakers of both parties attempted to reach a compromise around the "liability shield" so the infighting would not hold up a broader economic relief bill.

- Unemployment and stimulus reductions

The bill ultimately left out retroactive unemployment insurance. The bill also lowered the amount in weekly jobless benefits from the $600 unemployed Americans received over the spring and summer.

The package also does not include hazard pay for essential workers.

The bill does not extend stimulus checks to adult dependents.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Pandemic Deal by Congress Provides Economic Relief, for Now

The $900 billion agreement has probably spared millions of Americans
from a winter of poverty and kept the country from falling back into recession.

But it comes too late to prevent lasting damage to many families and
businesses, our reporters write in an analysis.

NY Times - December 20

The congressional agreement on Sunday on another dose of aid to fuel the slowing economic recovery has probably spared millions of Americans from a winter of poverty and kept the country from falling back into recession.

For much of the economy — especially people and industries that have been insulated from the worst effects of the pandemic — it may provide a bridge to a vaccine-fueled rebound. That is especially likely if the vaccine is quickly and widely distributed, and the swelling number of coronavirus cases doesn’t force another round of widespread shutdowns.

The injection of money comes months too late for tens of thousands of failed businesses, however, and it may not be enough to sustain unemployed workers until the labor market rebounds. Moreover, it could be the last help from Washington the economy gets anytime soon.

The package requires a vote in both houses, and its text was still being finalized on Sunday. But it is expected to include most of the elements that economists have long said were crucial to avoiding further calamity and aiding a recovery. It extends unemployment benefits for millions at risk of losing them, and adds money to their checks to help pay their bills. It revives the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept many small businesses afloat last spring. ... said...

So Congress finally managed to cut a deal, which is flawed in many ways but better than nothing, plus also passing a spending bill so as to avoid a govt shutdown, all this without a single bit of input from Pres. Trump.

So now on the evening of Dec. 22 Trump is suddenly injecting himself, demanding amendments, including a higher payment to individuals (not necessarily bad) but also a bunch of other changes, not quite sure what all, although I gather some of those requested changes involve the separate spending bill. Not sure what is going to come out of this, but certainly not the best presidenting.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

(Trump may veto the COVID relief bill; it appears Congress would override his veto.)

Trump suggests he won't sign COVID relief bill without $2,000 stimulus check

AP - December 22

Trump tells lawmakers to amend COVID-19 relief bill,
suggests he may not sign $900 billion legislation

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump is assailing the bipartisan $900 billion pandemic relief package that Congress just passed and is suggesting that he may not sign it.

Trump complained in a video that he tweeted out Tuesday night that the bill delivered too much money to foreign countries, but not enough to Americans.

The bill provides for a $600 payment to most Americans, but Trump said he is asking Congress to amend the bill and "increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000, or $4,000 for a couple. I am also asking Congress to get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill."

"Send me a suitable bill or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package. And maybe that administration will be me," the president says in the video.

The relief package was part of a hard-fought compromise bill that includes $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and contains other end-of-session priorities such as money for cash-starved transit systems, an increase in food stamp benefits and about $4 billion to help other nations provide a COVID-19 vaccine for their people.

The relief package was brought forward Monday afternoon and sped through the House and Senate in a matter of hours as lawmakers worked to close the books on the year. While many lawmakers complained about being given so little time to read the bill, they overwhelmingly voted for it as local businesses and constituents seek economic relief from the pandemic

The Senate cleared the package by a 92-6 vote after the House approved it by another lopsided vote, 359-53. Those votes totals would be enough to override a veto should Trump decide to take that step. ...

Fred C. Dobbs said...

Say Whaaat?

‘Let’s do it’: Pelosi & The Squad rally support for Trump’s push for larger COVID-19 stimulus relief checks

via @BostonGlobe - December 23

President Trump called on Congress Tuesday night to deliver more pandemic relief to Americans by increasing the $600 stimulus payment included in the proposed COVID-19 economic stimulus plan to $2,000, prompting widespread support from progressive lawmakers across the country. ...

Trump continued that the bill delivered too much money to foreign countries, but not enough to Americans, signaling he may not sign it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed Trump’s push to amend the bill, tweeting out late Tuesday “let’s do it.”

At last, the President has agreed to $2,000 — Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!”

Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib said they already had language prepared for an amended bill, pushing for $2,000 stimulus checks for individuals and $4,000 for couples, striking the $600 and $1,200 respective proposals from the bill.

Fred C. Dobbs said...

NY Times - December 22

How Trump Has Jeopardized Stimulus Relief

The president’s demand that Congress amend a giant coronavirus relief
and government spending bill has raised the unexpected prospect that
help may no longer be days away. ...

Buried in Pandemic Aid Bill: Billions to Soothe the Richest

The voluminous coronavirus relief and spending bill that blasted through
Congress on Monday includes provisions — good, bad and just plain
strange — that few lawmakers got to read. ...

WASHINGTON — Tucked away in the 5,593-page spending bill that Congress rushed through on Monday night is a provision that some tax experts call a $200 billion giveaway to the rich.

It involves the tens of thousands of businesses that received loans from the federal government this spring with the promise that the loans would be forgiven, tax free, if they agreed to keep employees on the payroll through the coronavirus pandemic.

But for some businesses and their high-paid accountants, that was not enough. They went to Congress with another request: Not only should the forgiven loans not be taxed as income, but the expenditures used with those loans should be tax deductible.

“High-income business owners have had tax benefits and unprecedented government grants showered down upon them. And the scale is massive,” said Adam Looney, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former Treasury Department tax official in the Obama administration, who estimated that $120 billion of the $200 billion would flow to the top 1 percent of Americans. ...